A convicted rapist is about to be a free man for the first time in three decades.
Ronnie Johnson, 62, was granted parole in January 2016 and is pending release from incarceration.
Johnson, dubbed the "Southside Rapist," is believed to be responsible for a string of 10 reported rape incidents which occurred on the south side of Lebanon from 1979 into the early 1980s. Johnson received a life sentence, plus four years, after being tried and convicted of one of these rapes in 1982.
"I think there are some people in the community who are holding their breath right now to see how this turns out," former Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe told The Wilson Post. "Like everybody else, we hope he would not return to his past habits."
Ashe served as Chief of Detectives for the Lebanon Police Department when the incidents occurred and recounted both the investigation and trial in his 2012 autobiography, Ashes of Bluebird. Ashe opened Chapter Four: The Southside Rapist by calling it the biggest case he's worked and one that "brings chills to anyone who was around to read the papers or watch the news in those days."
In each report, the Southside Rapist followed a pattern. He preyed on elderly women who lived alone. Before an attack he would loosen the light bulb on his victim's porch, make entry into the home and creep in his "sock-feet." In the tenth and final report, the victim alleged she woke up with him standing over her with a knife and then beating her almost lifeless with a telephone.
On the night of the final rape, for which Johnson was convicted, an officer tagged a sedan parked 65 yards from the victim's home parked by a vacant ball park. After delivering the victim to the hospital to treat injuries which left her "unrecognizable" to Ashe, he began to look at the description of the cars in the area.
The car was found at Johnson's residence. Inside of the residence, also occupied by Johnson's wife and children, Ashe said he located two bloody socks in the hamper. Testing confirmed the blood on the socks matched that of the victims and was used as evidence to convict Johnson of rape along with the victim's testimony.
Ashe told The Wilson Post on Thursday he commended the work of investigators - but the true people who deserve credit for his conviction were the victims. "It took a lot of guts for these ladies to come forward and expose themselves," he said. "They are the real leaders in how this case came to a head."
According to Ashe, release may not be the end of Johnson's story.
"After the first case was tried, he got a life sentence. It was my understanding that we wouldn't proceed on the next case because we didn't want to put another victim through testimony and cross-examination," he said. "But there is another case."
District Attorney General Tommy Thompson will not be taking any action at this point. "He has served 34 years. I have opposed him getting out every time that it has come up," he said. Part of Johnson's parole requires him to keep a distance from witnesses and victims.
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.