MAYVILLE – A Village of Mayville man will spend more than 10-years behind bars in connection with a 2008 cold case.
Outgoing Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson tells WNY News Now 33-year-old Rance Freeman was sentenced Wednesday before Judge Susan M. Eagan to 14 years behind bars and five years post-release supervision in the killing of 55-year-old Westfield resident Jeffrey Johnson.
“We’re very happy that that case is over,” Swanson said. “On a personal note, I’m happy I was able to see that case through before leaving office tomorrow. I know the family of the victim (Johnson) is pleased. I know the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Department, their investigative division that worked so hard to put this case together after 12 years, we’re just happy with the disposition.”
Freeman, as part of a plea deal earlier this year, will serve time for first-degree manslaughter.
Johnson was found dead at his Main Street home in Westfield more than a decade ago.
Swanson, following Freeman’s indictment, was unable to comment on the particulars of the case. The prosecutor, following sentencing, elaborated on the investigation.
Freeman was “friendly” with Johnson, often times helping Johnson out with household chores and providing transportation to various appointments, according to Swanson.
Swanson says, on the day of Johnson’s death, Freeman took him to the CVS Pharmacy in Westfield to fill a prescription of hydrocodone pills. At that time, Swanson says that patients could receive a three-months supply, or 120 pills, of hydrocodone.
“We think that was the catalyst for this homicide,” Swanson said. “Mr. Freeman was using hydrocodone pills, according to all the witnesses we spoke with, he was there at the house with Mr. Johnson later that day.”
Swanson says another friend came by and three people were there. The attorney adds that Freeman and the third part had left, with the belief that Freeman came back and struck Johnson in the back of the head at least two-to-three times before taking the pills.
Swanson says Freeman attended a party later that night with a “quantity” of hydrocodone pills that he was passing out.
“That was abnormal for Mr. Freeman to do,” Swanson said. “Sometimes he’d sell him, but he never had that quantity of pills.”
DNA evidence linking Freeman to the murder weapon was discovered in 2008, but Swanson says the evidence wasn’t “substantial enough” for then-District Attorney David Foley to advance the case. Swanson, however, says technology called “STRmix” allowed investigators to rule out a third party link to the DNA mixture belonging to Johnson and Freeman.
WNYNewsNow asked Swanson why he eventually offered a first-degree manslaughter plea when Freeman was indicted on second-degree murder. He says a 2nd degree murder charge would’ve been “difficult” to secure.
“Whenever you have a homicide, you’re going to look at potentially negotiating that case,” Swanson said. “In this situation, you have a 12-year-old case where a number of the witnesses in this case were either in jail. One of the witnesses was deceased. It would’ve been a difficult case to try and get a murder two conviction, so we worked hard to find a resolution that was satisfying to the two children of the deceased, Mr. Johnson.”
“We negotiated in an effort to allow closure and finality,” he added. Swanson says that Freeman waived his right to appeal.
Since Freeman’s arrest in 2018 the Westfield Police Department and Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the cold case.