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Dalton Walker
Indian Country Today

Marilyn Johns was a mom, wife, sister and daughter.

The 41-year-old Gila River Indian Community citizen died in 1987 in an unthinkable way.

Johns was brutally assaulted in a downtown Phoenix alley 32 years ago last February. She was found alone, beaten, sexually assaulted and set on fire. She was barely alive. Johns was taken to a hospital burn unit and died 12 days later from her injuries, including third-degree burns to over 85 percent of her body.

Phoenix police had few clues about her attacker. The investigation turned into a cold case, meaning it remained unsolved with leads exhausted until last year, when the department’s homicide unit and crime laboratory began working with detectives from the Maricopa County attorney’s office.

Then came a June announcement by police of an arrest in Johns’ death.

“Working together, along with the scientists from the Phoenix Police Crime Laboratory, the investigators were able to track down additional evidence,” the announcement read.

The new evidence allowed police to develop probable cause that led to the June 2 arrest of 52-year-old Darron Miniefield, who was 20 at the time of Johns' death. He was taken into custody on suspicion of first-degree murder.

Phoenix media, citing a police report, said DNA at the crime scene matched Miniefeld.

Miniefield remains in custody with no bail set, and his next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 23, according to the sheriff’s office website. It wasn't immediately clear if he has a lawyer.

Jim Dettmer, a spokesman with Maricopa County attorney’s office, said the case is “going through it’s normal process, and I don’t have any substantive information to provide.”

Johns’ brother, Irving Johns Sr., remembers his sister and the times they spent together. He said she was married with two children at the time of her death.

“She was a good woman,” Johns said.

The Gila River Police Department thanked Phoenix police on social media for their work on the case. Gila River is just south of Phoenix and stretches into the Phoenix Valley.

Phoenix police this week shared a release about the case on Facebook, along with a recent photo of detectives with Irving Johns. The detectives fixed Irving Johns’ flagpole, which was damaged by a storm. Johns regularly flies U.S. and Navy flags over his Gila River home.

Since 2011, investigations by the Phoenix homicide cold case unit has led to 10 arrests. The unit consists of six detectives and one sergeant.

“We never forget that each victim was a parent, spouse, sibling, friend and loved one. We will always work each case as hard as we can to bring it to a conclusion,” reads a description on the unit’s website.

In August, the Interior Department opened a cold case office in Sacaton, Arizona, on the Gila River reservation, as part of its Operation Lady Justice Task Force. The office is one of seven opening across the country and focuses on cold cases involving missing and murdered Native people.

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Dalton Walker, Red Lake Anishinaabe, is a national correspondent at Indian Country Today. Follow him on Twitter: @daltonwalker Walker is based in Phoenix and enjoys Arizona winters.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.