Man who attacked woman in sex assault along Littleton trail gets 90 years to life in prison

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. – A man with a history of sex crimes was sentenced to 90 years to life in prison on Friday in the 2018 attack and sexual assault of a woman along a trail in Littleton.

Johnny DeWayne Harris, Jr., 49, was found guilty in September on charges of first-degree kidnapping, attempted sexual assault, first-degree assault – strangulation and unlawful sexual contact.

Harris last year was also arrested in similar attacks that happened in Denver while he was apparently living out of his car near 20th Avenue and Arapahoe Road. He pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and two counts of attempted sexual assault in the Denver attacks. In June, he was sentenced to 25 years on the first-degree assault and three years each on the other two charges, according to court records.

The Littleton attack happened July 25, 2018, near South Santa Fe Drive and Brewery Lane. The victim was walking her dog along a trail at the Mary Carter Greenway when Harris attacked her and wrapped a parachute cord around her neck, authorities said.

Harris then dragged the woman about 20 feet off the trail. The woman fought back and knocked off Harris’ glasses, authorities said. Harris then tied the woman’s ankles and wrists. But while Harris searched for his glasses, the victim was able to untie her feet and escape.

She ran to the trail, where several cyclists stopped to help and some followed Harris until police arrived. Officers arrested Harris about 15-20 minutes later.

Prosecutors said Harris later confessed to the attack in an interview and a written statement.

At the time of the Littleton attack, Harris was wanted by Denver authorities for the alleged attack there and for failing to register as a sex offender.

18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler called Harris “the embodiment of the nightmarish rapist who jumps from the bushes to grab and sexually assault the innocent and unsuspecting.”

The victim, Vanessa Ursini, released a statement after Harris was found guilty:

It’s hard to describe the emotions going through my mind as this has been the hardest week of my life since the attack.

I can’t thank everyone who has been with me throughout the process enough. I am so proud and grateful to my legal team for the way they presented my case as well as treating me with the utmost respect and patience for the last 14 months.

I’d also like to thank every single person who testified, I know from experience just how difficult that must have been. It is never easy to relive probably one of the most awful experiences of their lives.

Last but not least, to my army of support, who stood behind me the entire way, my husband, my brother, my mom, and my entire friendship base from around the entire world was with me this week! I am a survivor, and through the help of all of you I am able to be here to thank you all today.

Ursini also spoke with Denver7 after Harris was sentenced Friday.

“I look over my shoulder constantly and when we go out it’s just now part of my life,” Ursini said. “I do push that everybody — not just women — have some kind of self-defense, have some type of thing when they walk their dog. I tell people my story almost on a daily basis — not to draw attention to myself or what is happened to me, but to show that you can be walking your dog at 7 a.m. on a Wednesday morning and someone can do something awful to you.”

Texas sex offender records show that Harris had to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after a 1999 conviction for assaulting a 15-year-old girl. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and registered as a sex offender in 2014 upon his release.

But Colorado court records show that he was charged with several sex crimes in January 2016 in Denver, though many of the charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to indecent exposure. But he failed to register as a sex offender and pleaded guilty in December 2016 for failing to do so. He received an 18-month jail sentence.