Release of 'Ninja bandit' put off

The scheduled release Wednesday of the man Modesto police dubbed the "Ninja bandit" in the 1980s has been postponed 45 days while Robert Angel Johnson is evaluated to see if he fits the description of a sexually violent predator, officials said.

Johnson, then 29, was found guilty in 1986 of 13 felonies: one count each of attempted murder, possessing stolen property and attempted sodomy; five counts of robbery; three counts of burglary; and two counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object. The crimes took place, mainly in northwest Modesto, between September 1984 and September 1985.

Johnson often wore a black ninja hood and martial arts clothing and was armed with a gun, knife or both. Many of his victims testified that he thanked them for their cooperation as he left with their valuables.

Johnson received a prison sentence of 39 years and four months; attorneys at the time estimated he could be released after serving 20 years.

"That's the way it is," said Jenni Avila, parole administrator for this area. "It's not that we decided he should get out early. Unfortunately, he's come to the end of his sentence as California does it."

The Board of Prison Hearings placed the hold on Johnson's release, Avila said. The extra 45 days will give the Department of Mental Health time to decide whether to diagnose him as a sexually violent predator.

Johnson was assessed once before, and he was determined not to fall into that category, Avila said. She did not know the details of that decision but said Victim Services requested a second evaluation.

A felon convicted of a crime with substantial sexual conduct, whose victim was a stranger, a casual acquaintance or a victim groomed for sexual victimization, would warrant this evaluation, said Phil Trompetter, a clinical psychologist from the Modesto area who specializes in police and forensic psychology. He performed sexually violent predator assessments for the state from 1996 to 2000. The state contracts with 40 to 50 people, mostly psychologists, to do the evaluations. The goal is to determine whether the felon is likely to commit predatory sexual offenses in the future.

If someone is deemed to be a sexually violent predator, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Goold said, the Department of Mental Health completes a report and sends it to the district attorney in the county in which the person was convicted. The felon would then be entitled to a jury trial where health professionals would testify about his of her state of mind.

If determined to be a sexually violent predator, Johnson likely would be committed to Atascadero State Hospital for at least two years, Avila said. The hospital is just north of San Luis Obispo, roughly four hours south of Modesto. He would receive yearly evaluations to judge his status and progress.

If and when Johnson is paroled, Avila said, he would not come back to Stanislaus County. State law says felons must return to the counties where they are from, but exceptions apply. Because many of Johnson's victims still live in the area, Avila said, Johnson likely would be sent to Fresno and not allowed into Stanislaus County.

Although the conditions of Johnson's parole remain undetermined, Avila said it could last as long as five years. He likely would carry a global positioning system tracker and wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.

"His every move would be monitored," Avila said.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.