Crime - Sacto 911

Man condemned to death for Florin High student’s murder dies of unknown causes

Leon Chauncey Cooper
Leon Chauncey Cooper Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

A man condemned to death for the 1998 murder of a Florin High School student died Wednesday at a hospital near San Quentin State Prison.

Leon Chauncey Cooper, 54, was pronounced dead at 4:40 p.m., according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation news release. Authorities said the cause of death has not been determined pending an autopsy. Cooper was housed in a single-person cell.

A former minister, Cooper was convicted by a Sacramento County jury of raping and murdering his stepdaughter, LaRhonda Johnson, a 15-year-old Florin High School sophomore. The teenager’s body was found March 26, 1998, in a marshy field in southern Sacramento County. She reportedly had been taken from her Calvine Road home, where Cooper had once lived with her mother, sister and brother.

An autopsy showed the Johnson’s death was caused by drowning, and strangulation was a contributing factor, according to a 2001 story in The Sacramento Bee.

When Cooper drove to a spot near Hood Road to dump the body, he attracted the attention of a nearby resident, who called police and reported Cooper’s license plate number. He later turned himself in to police.

He had been on death row since June 13, 2001.

Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.