Authorities on Tuesday announced charges against a 55-year-old man arrested in connection with the 1997 fatal shooting of a Thousand Oaks bank teller during a robbery.
Kevin Ray James was arrested in San Bernardino on March 9. He was transported and booked into Ventura County Jail.
James was later charged with first-degree murder in commission of robbery and using a firearm in the commission of the offense, Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said during a news conference Tuesday.
He is being held without bail.
Leech was shot in the back of the head during a robbery at Western Financial Bank at 2920 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. on April 28, 1997.
Around 10:15 a.m. that morning, two robbers disguised as construction workers went into the bank and demanded money.
Three workers were forced into the vault room and forced to unlock the safe, Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff detailed.
Leech, 39, was eventually handcuffed and one of the robbers shot her. She had only been working at the bank for a few months before she was killed, Fryhoff said.
“Monica was cooperative and not a threat to the bank robbers, so investigators don’t understand why she had to be shot,” Fryhoff said.
The suspects drove away in a 1994 Ford Explorer, crashed and ran away. They got away with $11,000 in cash, the sheriff said.
Fryhoff shared that the first deputy who responded to the call at the bank was his now Undersheriff John Reilly.
“When I talked to him about this case the other day he said the first time he ever cried at work was when the family showed up asking for their mom,” Fryhoff recounted. “He had been on patrol for only 18 months.”
At the time, there was not enough evidence to identify or arrest any suspects and the case went cold, Fryhoff said.
But in March 2021, the cold case unit reopened the case and advances in DNA testing allowed investigators to reevaluate evidence for lab analysis, eventually linking James to the case.
Nasarenko elaborated that investigators were able to “amplify and isolate” DNA and therefore link evidence left at the scene to James.
James apparently lived in the Los Angeles area at the time of the robbery and was described as a gang member.
Authorities stressed that they still have not identified the second suspect involved in the robbery.
A $30,000 FBI reward for information on that person remains in place, as does a $100,000 reward from Crimestoppers.
“This was a senseless, unprovoked and vicious murder,” Nasarenko said.
He added that Leech grew up in the Somis community of Ventura County, was a proud graduate of Rio Mesa High School and came from a banking family.
She liked needlepoint and going for walks in the morning and was described as a beloved wife, daughter and mother who helped raise four children.
Anyone with information about the case or the second suspect is asked to call the Sheriff’s Office’s major crimes bureau at 805-383-8704 or email them at email@example.com.