Crime & Courts

OSBI defends its work on homicides

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation defended its handling of high-profile homicide cases Tuesday, responding to criticism after a 7-year-old girl turned up dead following a two-month search.

The bodies of Aja Johnson and her stepfather and alleged abductor, 46-year-old Lester Hobbs, were found last week in rural Norman. The OSBI had been leading a search for the two since Aja's mother, Tonya Hobbs, was found dead Jan. 24 inside Lester Hobbs' motor home in Geronimo, about 100 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.

At least one lawmaker called for an investigation of the agency after the bodies were found.

OSBI spokeswoman Jessica Brown responded Tuesday that the agency cleared 83.7 percent of its 61 homicide cases last year despite being assigned the most difficult investigations. That clearance rate is down from 96 percent in 2005, when the agency also had 61 homicide cases, but Brown cited statistics that she said showed the agency clears more homicides than other state or national law enforcement agencies.

Aja and Lester Hobbs' bodies were found March 29 with Tonya Hobbs' missing white Toyota Paseo about a mile from where Lester Hobbs once lived in rural Norman. The car was easily visible from the air.

Authorities issued an Amber Alert and began searching for the two after Aja's mother's body was found. But although they searched the area where Lester Hobbs used to live three times, they didn't do it by air.

The OSBI also turned down an offer from the FBI to use the federal agency's child abduction response team, FBI spokesman Gary Johnson said, although the FBI had an agent at the OSBI's command post.

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, called last week for an investigation of OSBI's work, but he said little about the case Tuesday.

"I now believe, based on what I know, regardless of what the OSBI did — and I believe they did a thorough investigation — that Lester Hobbs had the intention of murdering that little girl regardless of what anybody did. He is the root of the tragedy."

The OSBI is leading investigations in two other unsolved homicides. In June 2008, two young girls were gunned down on a country road near Weleetka. Last August, a pastor was slain in Anadarko.

"Not every case is going to be solved," Brown said. ". . . But I can tell you we're doing everything we can to solve them."