COLORADO SPRINGS — Detectives who investigated the homicide of Riley Whitelaw at a Colorado Springs Walgreens took part in a preliminary hearing on the case to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
During a preliminary hearing in Colorado, the prosecution is tasked with showing probable cause in continuing the case. This is done by reviewing evidence alongside testimony with those who are involved in the investigation and collection of evidence. The prosecution and defense teams cross-examine witnesses during the process.
The courtroom was packed with people interested in the case, as was the virtual hearing available for people unable to attend in person.
Riley Whitelaw, a 17-year-old employee, was found dead by her manager in the break room at the Walgreens off Centennial Boulevard in western Colorado Springs on the night of June 11, 2022. The manager had come to the store to check on his team member when she did not return from a break. Riley's coworkers told detectives she was "always on time" and her break was only supposed to be 15 minutes long.
Her coworker, 28-year-old Joshua Johnson, was arrested later that evening while walking south along I-25 near Walsenburg. He's facing a charge of first-degree murder in connection to Riley's death.
During the preliminary hearing, the lead detective told the court investigators were able to view surveillance video from the store and says no one in the store other than Johnson could have been responsible for Riley's death. Another detective searched Johnson's locker, finding an empty sheath for the multitool they believe was used to kill Riley. The locker also held pieces of paper with Riley's name and social security number, and her boyfriend's name, birthday, address, and his social security number. Video from Johnson's home shows he appeared "in a hurried state" when he arrived there in the time frame after the teen's death, according to the detective. Johnson was wearing a hoodie that covered his head and most of his face as he entered and left the home carrying what appeared to be water and other items, according to the detective.
The lead detective was also asked about the initial interview with Johnson after he was found walking along I-25. He described Johnson as having an abnormal haircut as if someone had done it themselves, and there were noticeable scratches around his face, as seen in his booking photo.
Johnson told the detectives he ran from the store after being attacked by another man in the dark break room while responding to hearing a scream from Riley, according to the detective. He also claimed to have fallen in blood in the break room.
When asked about being seen near the dumpster at the store, police say Johnson was trying to change his clothes because "he fell in the blood." Johnson told police he later went home then started driving south because he was afraid, then hid his car before walking. The manager on duty said while she was looking for Riley, she smelled bleach coming from the dumpster and saw someone's feet, an unrecognizable voice of a man told her he was changing, but she did not know who it was.
Detectives did a follow-up on Johnson's claim of being attacked by a man with blue eyes. They determined the description closely fits the description of an acquaintance of a that same manager, but it was determined that person could not have been present at the time of the killing. Detectives believe Joshua Johnson is the person responsible for the killing.
Today was only the first day of the hearing which is scheduled to resume next Wednesday.
According to the arrest affidavit, Riley told her manager about one year prior to the killing that Johnson made her feel uncomfortable and was making unwanted advances toward her. Coworkers told detectives they felt it was "inappropriate" for Johnson to have been interested in Riley because she was so much younger than him.
Riley's manager reportedly spoke with Johnson about her concerns and her manager thought Johnson was "receptive".
According to the arrest affidavit for Johnson, the store manager called 911 just before 7 p.m. after finding a body in the break room and "blood everywhere." Police at the scene described finding the young woman with significant trauma to her neck and several stab wounds.
An interview with the store manager revealed he became concerned when Whitelaw did not return from a break. He checked surveillance video and saw Johnson, also an employee, stacking storage bins to block a security camera, according to court documents. There was also paper taped over the breakroom window, plus a closed sign for the restrooms.
Another manager told police she had smelled a strong odor of bleach near the dumpster area and encountered a man who said he was changing at the time. That person was gone by the time the manager came outside.
It was after reviewing the video that the store manager found Riley's body. According to the affidavit, the store owner told officers she had filed a complaint a year ago about Johnson following unwanted advances. She also had asked to work a different schedule. Her boyfriend recently started working at the store. However, she later requested to have more hours on her schedule, was told that would involve working more with Johnson, and she agreed, according to the lead detective in the case.
There is no mention in the arrest affidavit if officers were able to recover the clothes they believe Johnson was wearing at the time. He denied stacking totes in front of the camera when asked by officers.
A customer returned to the scene when officers were at the store. She told police she heard a woman screaming and possible slamming of doors when at the store before 6 p.m.
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