LEBANON, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Wilson County man who spent nearly 34 years behind bars for rape has been granted parole.
Ronnie Johnson was dubbed the “Southside Rapist” after several women came forward in the early 1980’s to report violent attacks, all of which occurred on the south side of Lebanon.
At the time of his arrest, Johnson said police had the wrong guy but in 1982, a jury convicted him of aggravated rape.
Johnson, 62, was first eligible for parole in 2003. Since then, he’s had six parole hearings and was denied parole at five of them.
During the sixth hearing in January, he was finally granted parole.
Former Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe served as Chief of Detectives for the Lebanon Police Department when the alleged rapes occurred.
“We had a serial rapist among us and it was a tough investigation. We worked around the clock and used every avenue and tool available to us at that time,” said Ashe.
He said there were as many as eight reported rapes at the time and a few of the alleged victims have contacted him after learning Johnson would soon be set free.
“The last rape that we had, the victim is still alive today and I knew her personally, and in that sexual assault he had beaten her so bad that I didn’t even recognize her,” Ashe told News 2.
Ashe said each attack was similar and involved women who lived alone.
All of the victims were between the ages of 40 and 70, except one woman who was approximately 30 years old.
He said blood-soaked socks and fingerprint evidence led to Johnson’s arrest.
After the arrest, Ashe said the rapes stopped.
“We arrested and convicted and charged the right man and so now, I just worry more about the victims. I want people to pray for all of the ladies who are victims of violent sexual assault and rape. It’s a terrible thing not to be compassionate for these people,” Ashe told News 2.
State law says a sex offender can’t be released without certification from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
According to a spokesperson for the Tennessee Board of Parole, Johnson received certification prior to the January hearing.
Johnson is still behind bars and has not yet submitted a release plan, which must be approved in order for him to be released.
The Tennessee Board of Parole stipulated that Johnson must go to a halfway house to live after getting out of prison.