A Norwegian appeals court jury found a 40-year-old man guilty on Thursday of murdering 12-year-old Kristin Juel Johannessen, 17 years after her strangled body was found in August 1999. The court’s panel of judges quickly accepted the jury’s verdict and sentencing was expected next week.
The defendant, Henning Hotvedt, had also been found guilty of murdering Johannessen in 2001. He appealed, however, and was ultimately freed in 2003 after prosecutors’ most important biological evidence against him, a strand of hair, was determined to have come from a woman and not from him.
Hotvedt was also granted compensation from the state but Johannessen’s family never gave up their quest to get him back in court. They prevailed after new and improved DNA testing allowed investigators to determine that Hotvedt’s DNA had been found under the fingernails of the dead girl, which had been preserved since her autopsy. He was arrested again and charged with the murder last year.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Roar Juel Johannessen, the dead girl’s father, was visibly relieved by the jury’s verdict. He called the last 17 years “hell” as he and family members kept working to seek justice for their daughter’s and sister’s murder. “I’m a bit empty in my head and body, and my legs feel like jelly, but we have finally arrived where we wanted,” Johannessen told reporters gathered in the courtroom.
His daughter had set off on her bicycle on a warm summer evening of August 5, 1999 to meet a friend at a local swimming lake not far from their homes outside Larvik in Vestfold County. She never turned up, setting off a search that resulted in her bicycle and backpack, and eventually her body, being found in a forested area near a garage.
Witnesses had reported seeing a man who resembled Hotvedt on a moped, and there were many holes in his version of events back in August 1999. It was the DNA evidence that was deemed decisive, however. He faces up to 21 years in prison.