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A man has been extradited from Mexico to face murder charges in Utah, and authorities say he killed two women exactly two years apart more than a decade ago.
Juan Arreola-Murrillo, 41, was charged with aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary, according to CBS affiliate KUTV. Recently unsealed documents identified Arreola-Murrillo as the murder suspect dubbed the “February 9th Killer.”
Sonia Mejia, 29, and Damiana Castillo, 57, were murdered at their Salt Lake County homes in February 2006 and February 2008, respectively.
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, Sonia Mejia lived in Taylorsville, Utah — just south of Salt Lake City — with her common-law husband and 8-year-old son at the time of her murder. On the morning of her death, Mejia was home alone when witnesses say they saw her talking to an unknown Hispanic male at her front door. One witness saw the man assault Mejia before forcefully entering her residence and shutting the door behind him.
Mejia’s husband found her body after he returned from work that evening.
Mejia was sexually assaulted and strangled to death, according to the Department of Public Safety. She was six months pregnant at the time of her death.
Her attacker also stole her Ford Escort, which was found in a parking lot four days later, and the jewelry she'd been wearing.
Two years later, Damiana Castillo was found murdered at her West Valley City apartment. She had reportedly left work on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. according to Salt Lake City news outlet KSL; her son found her body the next morning around 10:00 a.m., he told Salt Lake ABC affiliate KTVX, on the ground covered by a pillow.
"She was a very prompt lady," West Valley City Police Capt. Tom McLachlan told KSL at the time. "She was never late for work, always attended church, and no one had seen her that morning."
Castillo had been strangled her to death, according to KUTV, and the recent arrest report cited by the outlet noted there was an overturned table and a disturbed jewelry box in her home, while the contents of her purse and wallet on the couch.
Mejia and Castillo lived one mile from one another, according to Salt Lake City’s Fox 13. (Though her body was discovered on Feb. 10, which is her date of death given on her cold case file by the Utah Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake's list of cold cases says that her "homicide that occurred exactly two years" after Meija's.)
DNA helped authorities link the two women's murders to a single killer. In 2010, the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against “John Doe” after a DNA profile was created.
Another break came in 2016 when fingerprint analysis technicians linked Arreola-Murrillo to the murders, after police examined prints found on a bag of Cheetos and Coke can at Mejia’s crime scene.
Arreola-Murrillo had been arrested in Salt Lake City in July 2008 for fraud, according to court records cited by KUTV. The address provided to authorities after his 2008 arrest matched the apartment complex where Mejia was killed in 2006, though it wasn’t clear if he lived there at the time of her death. He was deported from the United States later in 2008 after pleading guilty to those charges.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill claimed they’d known of Arreola-Murrillo’s identity since the 2016 break in the case but had to sit on it due to the delicate nature of extradition.
“Once somebody is a foreign national who leaves, we do have certain diplomatic responsibilities,” said Gill, according to Fox 13. “In Mexico, we must assure we will not seek the death penalty.”
With the death penalty off the table, Arreola-Murrillo faces life in prison if convicted of the murders.
“Whenever you have an unsolved homicide, you leave this wound, you leave this lack of justice,” said Gill, according to KUTV. “It is about bringing some measure of justice to the victims and some measure of justice to our community as a whole.”
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