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A convicted sex offender serving a 93-year sentence was identified as the alleged killer of a Colorado woman who vanished four years ago and whose remains were identified this month.
The remains of 33-year-old Rita Gutierrez-Garcia, who disappeared in 2018, were found by authorities and positively identified, the Longmont Department of Public Safety announced on Thursday.
Juan Figueroa Jr., 33, who is currently incarcerated in a state prison roughly 100 miles south of Denver on attempted murder and sexual assault convictions, is now facing murder charges in Gutierrez-Garcia’s death, Boulder prosecutors said. He was sentenced to more than nine decades in state prison in 2019, according to online correctional records obtained by Oxygen.com.
“Today, after several years of relentless investigation, the District Attorney’s Office and Longmont Department of Public Safety can announce the recovery of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia’s remains,” officials said in a joint May 19 statement.
DNA analysis ultimately confirmed Gutierrez-Garcia’s identity, according to cold case detectives working the investigation.
“The recovery is the culmination of a years-long effort to hold her killer responsible and to recover Rita’s remains,” Michael T. Dougherty, the District Attorney for the Twentieth Judicial District, said in a statement.
Gutierrez-Garcia was last seen alive by friends near a bar in downtown Longmont, Colorado around 2:30 a.m. on March 18, 2018, according to prosecutors. For years, however, her disappearance remained a mystery, despite the “relentless” efforts of detectives. The missing persons case soon went cold.
In June 2021, a grand jury indicted Figueroa for first-degree murder and kidnapping of Gutierrez-Garcia in the “no-body homicide” case. At that point, the location of Gutierrez-Garcia’s remains were still unknown. Trial proceedings had originally been set for this month.
Late last month, however, investigators finally located Gutierrez-Garcia’s remains in Weld County, east of Longmont. The discovery was made April 28. No personal identification or belongings were found at the scene, officials said. Authorities notified Gutierrez-Garcia’s family about the discovery and the likelihood they belonged to the missing Colorado woman.
On May 19, following the completion of an autopsy, preliminary results from a DNA analysis confirmed the remains recovered were indeed Gutierrez-Garcia’s.
“The investigation into Rita’s disappearance and cold case homicide involved a multi-state investigation, dozens of interviews and search warrants, follow-up on hundreds of tips and leads, wide-ranging search efforts for her remains, and the use of forensic testing to identify essential DNA evidence,” Boulder prosecutors added.
“The District Attorney’s Office and Longmont Police Services are grateful to bring Rita home to her family,” officials’ statement added.
Prior to being charged with Gutierrez-Garcia’s killing, Figueroa had been scheduled to be up for parole in April 2093, according to prison records. He’s currently incarcerated at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Cañon City. It was unclear on Friday whether or not he had secured an attorney to comment on his behalf related to the newly filed charges in Gutierrez-Garcia’s death.
Figueroa is set to enter his plea June 3 at 1:30 p.m., officials said.
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