KNOXVILLE — After nearly three years on the run, the man allegedly responsible for brutally killing a former East Tennessee State University student was charged with her murder, a crime he claims was an “accident.”
Taylor Lee Olson, 22, of Knoxville, was indicted Monday on charges of felony murder, first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the December 2004 stabbing death of 21-year-old Johnia Berry.
As Knoxville authorities led him from the downtown City County Building to a waiting police cruiser Monday, a bleary-eyed Olson stopped to address nearby reporters.
“I’m sorry. I never meant for this to happen,” he said. “It was an accident.”
When asked how stabbing someone 26 times could be an accident, though, Olson fell silent. He was ushered into the police car, where he continued to utter “I’m sorry” as the vehicle pulled away.
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones announced Olson’s arrest at a news conference held Monday afternoon.
“It’s a good day in Knox County today, people. This investigation has been going on for almost two years and 10 months,” Jones said. “We had several tips that came along in the course of this investigation. Some of those led us to Mr. Olson.”
Olson had been a “person of interest” in the Berry case for “four or five months” prior to his arrest Friday evening at a mall parking lot in Knoxville, Jones said.
He previously had been arrested in late July for violating his probation on an unrelated offense. At that time, Olson voluntarily submitted to DNA testing, according to authorities.
Stopping short of saying officials have matched Olson’s DNA with that recovered from the crime scene, Jones said he feels “comfortable with our case” against Olson, adding that he does not believe Berry knew her killer.
“There’s no evidence to support (Olson) knew anyone in that apartment,” Jones said.
Berry was asleep inside her residence during the early morning hours of Dec. 6, 2004, when Olson allegedly entered the apartment and stabbed her multiple times. Authorities believe Olson went to the apartment to burglarize it but killed Berry in the process.
Berry’s roommate, Jason Aymami, also was injured in the attack. Aymami ran to a nearby store to call police, while Berry died in the hallway of her apartment building after banging on neighbors’ doors for help but getting no response.
Since her death, authorities have spent “countless hours” searching for Berry’s killer, officials said.
According to Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, his agency has conducted more than 1,000 tests in connection with the case and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, “the largest in the history of TBI for one case.”
Berry’s family was at Monday’s news conference and expressed thanks to all those involved in the investigation.
“A lot of these people, we’ve spent more time with than our own family over the last two years and nine or 10 months,” said Mike Berry, Johnia’s father.
While he admitted conversations with those leading the investigation sometimes got “heated,” Berry’s father said they all had the same goal in mind — “to put the person in jail that murdered our little girl.”
Olson was being held in the Knox County Jail on $1 million bond.
Knoxville District Attorney Randy Nichols said he will be asking to set Olson’s trial for the “first available opportunity.”