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Man Pleads Guilty to Fatally Strangling Two Women, One of Them Pregnant, Exactly Two Years Apart
Alleged “February 9th Killer" Juan Antonio Arreola-Murillo has pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder for strangling two women to death, one of whom was pregnant, on the same date in 2006 and 2008.
A Utah man pleaded guilty Monday to three counts of aggravated murder for the slayings of two women exactly two years apart.
Juan Antonio Arreola-Murillo, 42, confessed to killing Sonia Mejia and her unborn child on Feburary 9, 2006 and Damiana Castillo on February 9, 2008 in the victims' apartments in Salt Lake County, according to NBC affiliate KSL. The suspect was referred to as the “February 9th Killer" before authorities had a name.
Arreola-Murillo was initially charged with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated burglary and one count of aggravated robbery, but the latter three charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal.
In court Monday, Arreola-Murillo admitted to unlawfully entering Mejia’s apartment 17 years ago and strangled her to death, according to KSL.
Arreola-Murillo also admitted to breaking into the Castillo residence, which was located just a few blocks away from Mejia’s apartment, and strangling Castillo to death exactly two years after Mejia was murdered.
A probable cause statement filed with the Salt Lake County’s Third District Court described a neighbor seeing a man grab Mejia’s throat and hitting her in the head in the doorway of her apartment on February 9, 2006. The man then entered the apartment and kicked the door shut after Mejia — who was six months pregnant at the time — fell to the floor.
Mejia was found six hours later by her husband, who said that many of her personal belongings were missing, the statement said.
An autopsy determined Mejia’s cause of death was ligature strangulation, per the statement. The autopsy also declared her unborn child’s cause of death as maternal demise.
When officers initially entered the scene, they found a Cheetos bag and a Coke bottle just inside the doorway. According to the statement, Mejia’s husband said no one at the residence drank Coke and Cheetos were not usually kept in the house.
Latent prints were retrieved from the Coke bottle and Cheetos bag, which matched the DNA profile obtained from the ligature on Mejia’s neck, per the probable cause statement.
Two years after Mejia’s murder, officers found the body of Castillo just inside the front door of her apartment. She had ligature marks around her neck, the statement said.
There was evidence of an initial struggle when officers found a small table overturned near the front door. Additionally, the contents of Castillo’s purse were dumped onto the couch, including her wallet, and her jewelry box seemed to have been disturbed.
A latent fingerprint, obtained from Castillo’s wallet, matched the DNA profile of the fingerprints found on the Coke bottle and off the marks on Mejia’s neck, according to the statement.
In 2016, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) reported a match on the latent fingerprints found at both crime scenes, indicating they belonged to Arreola-Murillo.
However, Arreola-Murillo had been deported back to Mexico in October of 2008 before a positive identification on the killer was made.
The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office filed criminal charges against Arreola-Murillo in April of 2017, KSL reported. Arreola-Murillo was unable to immediately face the charges due to his prison sentence in Mexico for a series of aggravated robberies.
Arreola-Murillo was extradited back to Utah in January of 2022, following his Mexican prison sentence.
A sentencing hearing for Arreola-Murillo concerning the murders in 2006 and 2008 is scheduled for August 10.