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Prosecutors say DNA played key role in arrest of man for two decade old murder in Ventura County

Ventura County Shedriff's Office
Thousand Oaks bank teller Monica Leech (second from left) was killed in an April 28th, 1997 robbery.

Investigators say man responsible for 1997 killing of Thousand Oaks bank teller now behind bars.

It was a shocking crime, one that Ventura County Undersheriff John Reilly will never forget. It was April 28, 1997. He was on patrol in Thousand Oaks, when he received a chilling call from dispatch. There was a bank robbery in progress, and shots had been fired.

"We had a lot of bank robberies, but most of them were demand notes...give me the money...they weren't brutal takeovers," said Reilly.

Two armed robbers had entered Western Financial Bank, on the 2800 block of East Thousand Oaks Boulevard. He and Sergeant Randy Pentis didn’t know what they’d find. They arrived at the bank in just minutes, but the robbers had already fled, escaping with about $11,000.

Ventura County Sheriff's Office
The robbery, and fatal shooting occurred at Western Financial Bank in Thousand Oaks. The bank no longer exists.

The officers found a terrible scene. One of the robbers shot, and fatally wounded a teller. She had been handcuffed, and was down on the ground when she was shot in the head. Monica Leech of Camarillo was just 39.

Investigators say the crime went unsolved until now. More than a quarter of a century later, authorities arrested Kevin Ray James of San Bernardino for the murder, and robbery.

"This was a senseless, unprovoked, and vicious murder," said Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko. "Now, after 26 years, the man alleged to have done it has been arrested, and charged."

Detectives say during the initial investigation, they identified two possible suspects for the crime, including the now 55-year-old man. But, they could never get enough evidence for an arrest. He won’t go into details, but the DA said some relatively new DNA technology provided the missing link.

Authorities aren’t identifying the second man wanted for the robbery. But, court documents show that investigators think James was the one who fired the fatal shot.

Reilly has been in law enforcement for more than three decades, but said he will never forget that terrible day. He said even after all this time, he can’t make sense out of what happened.

"Why, why...there's no reason," said Reilly. "There's no reason whatsoever to do what they did."

We don’t know much about the suspect. Prosecutors would only say that Kevin James is a former gang member, and was unemployed at the time of his arrest.

He’s facing a first degree murder charge, along with allegations it was during the commission of a robbery, and that a gun was involved. He appeared in court Monday to face the charges, but hasn’t entered a plea yet.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.