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Cold Case Murder Suspect Pleads Not Guilty; Victim's Son Is A JBLM Soldier

Cillfford Everell Reed, a 59-year-old Montana man and former Seattle resident, was arraigned in King County Superior Court in the 1996 murder of Sandi Johnson of Kirkland. Sean Johnson, the victim's son, is part of the Army's 3rd Stryker Briga

Clifford Everell Reed, a 59-year-old Montana man and former Seattle resident, pleaded not guilty Thursday to the 1996 murder of Sandi Johnson, a 28-year-old mother of two from Kirkland’s Kingsgate area.

Overcome with emotion, Johnson’s father, Kenneth Gilbert of Mountlake Terrace, almost collapsed outside the courtroom while trying to talk to reporters.

“It’s been so long, it’s been 16 years,” he said before tearing up. “I can’t speak anymore.”

Gilbert turned away from the cameras and quickly sat down on a bench in the lobby of the King County Courthouse’s 12th floor. The victim’s son, Sean Johnson, a 21-year-old soldier in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Stryker Brigade who recently returned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord from a deployment to Afghanistan, rushed to his grandfather’s side.

Sandi Johnson disappeared on Sean Johnson's 5th birthday. He declined to speak with reporters.

Reed was extradited from Ravalli County, Mont., on Feb. 5. Arrested in December in Montana by cold case detectives with the King County Sheriff’s Office, Reed is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Sandi Rae Johnson. She disappeared on April 26, 1996, after leaving her house to join a friend for lunch. Her remains were not found until eight years later, along Highway 410 near Greenwater outside of Enumclaw.

Before the arraignment, Gilbert told Patch that in the years after his daughter’s disappearance, he and his wife would sometimes take drives on Highway 410 near Mount Rainier.

“My wife and I used to go up to Greenwater all the time,” he said. “We never knew we were so close.”

Reed remains in the King County Jail on bail of $5 million. He was ordered by Judge Barbara Linde to have no contact with Gilbert, the victim’s two children—Sean Johnson and Katie Johnson, 20—as well as three people who could be witnesses if the case goes to trial.

A case-setting hearing was set for March 14, a procedural step in which both the prosecution and defense prepare for a trial date to be set. If the case goes to trial, it could be months off.

Gilbert said before the arraignment that the arrest of the suspect after so many years brought no sense of closure. 

“I’m not happy with this man at all. It took years to find her,” he said. “As far as relief, you don’t get relief. There’s no closure when someone is missing or gone from you.”

Reed had been arrested shortly after the woman’s disappearance, but charges were not filed because Johnson’s remains could not be found.

Charging documents filed by King County prosecutors portray Reed as a man who held grudges against women he had previously been involved with, and claim a neighbor saw him driving Johnson’s car away from his home on the day of her disappearance. Johnson’s car was found just more than a mile from Reed’s residence at the time, in the Rainier Avenue area of Seattle.

Furthermore, the documents says Reed’s roommate told police that the suspect uncharacteristically vacuumed the residence’s carpet on the day of Johnson’s disappearance, then disposed of the vacuum’s contents, rented a carpet cleaner and cleaned the rug.

Reed, now a disabled auto mechanic from Victor, Mont., was a co-worker of Johnson at a Ford dealership in Kent and lived in Seattle at the time of her disappearance. He allegedly told friends that they were romantically involved and had an active sexual relationship. In fact, the charging documents say, while the two were friends, Johnson spurned Reed’s advances and finally told him “back off.”

Held after his arrest in the Ravalli County Jail in Montana, Reed had initially refused to cooperate with the extradition but gave up that fight later in December.

For previous Patch coverage of the case, click here.

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