A Hamilton man has been charged for an alleged 2019 burglary spree that included thefts from a church, construction sites and an auto repair facility, after DNA tests linked him to stolen items.
Justin Odean Johnson, 41, appeared Tuesday in Ravalli County Justice Court on seven felony counts including theft, accountability for burglary and criminal possession of dangerous drugs.
Johnson was arrested on Jan. 2 on an alleged methamphetamine possession charge and driving while his license was suspended. At the time of his arrest, Johnson also had an active arrest warrant for revocation of bail.
While he was in the county detention center, a sheriff’s detective matched Johnson’s DNA to a lollipop stick and dirty clothing that was found in 2019 in a cache of allegedly stolen items, according to the most recent charging affidavit.
The Ravalli County Sheriff’s Department investigated a series of thefts starting in Oct. 2019.
The first theft report came from the pastor of the Roots Christian Fellowship church in Victor on Oct. 23, 2019. The pastor reported that someone had cut a hole in the exterior fence near the property’s main gate, tore off a lock on a storage shop and stole two ATVs, one lawnmower, an ATV trailer and a propane patio heater.
On Oct. 29, Schrock Construction in Victor reported someone had stolen a large utility trailer from their parking lot. On Nov. 4, a representative from Geo Stabilization International on West Fork Road reported that padlocks had been cut off two tool trailers and items were stolen.
On Nov. 10, 2019, a man reported a theft of fuel. A subsequent investigation found the 2006 Dodge truck driven by the alleged fuel thief had been stolen in October from the parking lot of an automobile repair shop.
A friend of the pickup’s owner spotted the truck on Skalkaho Road in November and reported that Johnson was behind the wheel, the affidavit said.
On Dec. 5, 2019, a deputy responded to a reported shoplifting at a grocery store in Stevensville. Security video recorded Johnson leaving the store with the stolen groceries and that he left the parking lot in the stolen truck.
A game warden spotted the stolen truck later that day in the North Birch Creek area. During a pursuit of the vehicle by law enforcement, an orange jobsite box that was reported stolen from Geo Stabilization was thrown from the bed of the stolen pickup.
The stolen pickup was eventually found crashed in a gulch near Soft Rock and Willow Creek Road. A man and woman exited the stolen vehicle and fled on foot, the affidavit said.
On Dec. 8, 2019, Ravalli County Dispatch received a report of a suspicious man walking near Lost Horse Road. A deputy responded and spotted Johnson, who fled on foot into a forested area.
The next day, a sheriff’s detective searched the Lost Horse drainage area for additional clues to Johnson’s whereabouts. While on national forest lands, he found two utility trailers, including the one reported stolen from Schrock Construction. He also discovered several items reported stolen from the church.
After obtaining a search warrant, the detective searched the other trailer and found several power tools, a .22 rifle, clear plastic baggies with methamphetamine residue and 21 Clonazepam tablets. He also found several other items, including the lollipop stick and a dirty piece of clothing.
The affidavit said DNA swabs taken from Johnson matched DNA found on the lollipop and clothing.
Ravalli County Justice Jennifer Ray set bail at $40,000.