Coins and bags were missing from the apartment, Johnson told police. Cincotta’s hatchback Honda Civic was gone, the keys nowhere in sight. No signs of a forced entry or a struggle were apparent, police said.
But there was another detail: Johnson told police that Cincotta had given an old, unwanted computer to a man doing maintenance work around the apartment complex, about four weeks before her death.
On Wednesday, that man pleaded guilty to a first-degree murder charge, admitting that he strangled Cincotta to death more than two decades ago. And he claimed he did so hoping to be paid by a man he believed to be Cincotta’s boyfriend.
Bobby Joe Leonard, 54, stated as part of his plea in Arlington County Circuit Court that he agreed to kill Cincotta for $5,000 — which he never received. He did not name Johnson, though police have charged him in connection with what they have described as a murder-for-hire plot.
Johnson and Leonard were both suspects in the initial police investigation of Cincotta’s death in 1998. Then the case went cold with nobody being charged. After years of digging and prodding by Cincotta’s son, Kevin Cincotta, officials reopened the case in 2013.
Johnson and Leonard were charged with Andrea Cincotta’s murder in November. By that time, Leonard already had been sentenced to life in prison for raping and assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1999.
Leonard’s guilty plea filled in another piece of a puzzle that remains incomplete.
In 2018, Leonard told an Arlington County detective that after he took Andrea Cincotta’s old computer, he spoke with her about it over the phone. Johnson told police in 1998 that the man was having difficulties with the computer, and Cincotta had asked him to call about it.
Leonard said that after speaking with her, he received a phone call from “a male who identified himself as an engineer.”
“Mr. Leonard believed this individual [to] be Ms. Cincotta’s boyfriend based on the conversation,” according to documents filed with Leonard’s plea.
The plea documents offer this description of what followed: “Mr. Leonard had a subsequent telephone conversation with the same male, who offered Mr. Leonard $5,000 to take care of something for him. The male told Mr. Leonard this had to be done the next day, because Ms. Cincotta would be home. The male told Mr. Leonard not to use a gun because that would be too loud, that he should wear gloves, that he should not be seen by anyone, and that he should wear a hat to cover up his face. The male told Mr. Leonard the money would be left in the closet for him to pick up, the same closet from where Mr. Leonard had picked up the computer.”
When Leonard showed up to Andrea Cincotta’s apartment, she invited him in and offered him a root beer, according to the documents.
Leonard admitted that “he strangled her until she was no longer breathing,” according to the plea documents, adding that the $5,000 was not in the closet.
Johnson, who is under house arrest , has maintained his innocence since Andrea Cincotta’s death in 1998.
“Mr. Johnson is innocent,” his attorneys, Manuel Leiva and Frank Salvato, said in a statement after Leonard’s plea hearing Wednesday. “In prosecuting him, the government is relying on the self-serving lies of a man serving a life sentence for the rape and attempted murder of a 13-year-old girl. Mr. Leonard has left a trail of victims during his three decades of violent criminal behavior. Regrettably, the Cincotta family and Mr. Johnson are yet other of his victims.”
In a 2002 interview with The Post, Leonard had denied any role in Cincotta’s death. “I’ve cooperated in every way that the Arlington police wanted me to,” Leonard said in a telephone interview from prison. “I submitted to a polygraph; the examiner told me I passed. I submitted DNA and fingerprints. They searched my apartment. I was totally cooperative, never asked for a lawyer. I didn’t have anything to do with that.”
Now, Leonard is expected to testify in Johnson’s trial, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 12.
“Today is really about my mom, and we’ve been waiting 24 years,” Kevin Cincotta said after the hearing. “I’m 48, so I’ve lived as long without her as I lived with her. I do feel a spiritual connection with her, and I feel like she’s watching all of this, and this is for her.”
Kevin Cincotta said he was surprised when he learned that authorities had identified Johnson as the suspect in the most recent investigation. The family had supported Johnson — whom they knew as “Chris” — when he was first a suspect in 1998, Kevin Cincotta said.
“The information Chris had shared with me up to that point did not give me a reason to think he was involved — but all of that information was coming from Chris,” he said.