A 39-year-old man was back on trial in a Vestfold County courthouse this week, charged once again with the murder of 12-year-old Kristin Juel Johannessen in August 1999. The same man was convicted in 2001 but he appealed and was ultimately freed when police evidence collapsed over a strand of hair.
It had been believed to come from the man but another analysis prior to his appeals trial showed that it came from a woman, not a man. After he was freed, police also ultimately dropped further investigation in 2003 for lack of evidence.
Now some new evidence, showing the man’s DNA under the dead girl’s fingernails, has emerged as a result of the strangled girl’s family’s relentless efforts to reopen the case. In 2014, police sent in evidence secured during the girl’s autopsy. It returned with DNA matches to the defendant, based on new analysis technology.
Prosecutors credited the family for the breakthrough, noting that they had repeatedly pressured police to reopen the case. “They made sure that it was never forgotten by the Vestfold Police District,” lead prosecutor Alf Martin Evensen said during his opening remarks as the new trial got underway.
The defendant continues to claim innocence, that he never encountered Johannessen and had no reason to strangle her. Several witnesses had reported seeing a man on a moped matching his description near where the girl’s body was found, a forested area along the road to a lake where Johannessen had cycled to go swimming with a friend, but never turned up. Now the defendant needs to explain how his DNA from skin cells got under her fingernails, while new claims emerged that he was depressed at the time of her death.