Man pleads guilty to murdering 2 Utah women, unborn child in 2006, 2008

Posted at 5:13 PM, Jun 12, 2023

SALT LAKE COUNTY — A man who was extradited back to Utah from Mexico last year to face murder charges from 15 years ago has pleaded guilty to killing two women and an unborn child.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office announced Monday that 42-year-old Juan Antonio Arreola-Murillo pleaded guilty to three 1st-degree felony counts of aggravated murder. Two of the charges were for the murder of 29-year-old Sonia Mejia and her unborn daughter in Taylorsville on Feb. 9, 2006. The third charge was for the murder of 57-year-old Damiana Castillo in West Valley City exactly two years later.

Arreola-Murillo was extradited from Mexico to the Salt Lake County Jail in January 2022. The DA's office said he was deported after Castillo's murder but before he was identified as a suspect. Fingerprints from the scenes of both murders were matched to Arreola-Murillo in 2016. He was charged with the murders in 2017, but he was serving an aggravated robbery sentence in a Mexican prison at the time.

“Our office mourns the losses of Damiana Castillo, Sonia Mejia and her unborn child. While perfect justice would mean that these three individuals would still be with us today, we hope that these guilty pleas can bring a semblance of justice and closure for these families,” DA Sim Gill said in a press release. “We would like to acknowledge Unified Police Department, West Valley City Police Department, and our prosecutors for their efforts on this case. We would like to also thank our partner agencies on extraditing Mr. Arreola-Murillo back to Utah to account for his crimes.”

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Last year after Arreola-Murillo was extradited, Gill said he would face life in prison but not the death penalty. He said this was because of the process of extraditing a suspect from across the border.

“Once somebody is a foreign national who leaves, we do have certain diplomatic responsibilities," Gill said. "In Mexico, we must assure we will not seek the death penalty.”

Murder victims Sonia Mejia and Damiana Castillo

2006 murder of Sonia Mejia & unborn daughter

Taylorsville Police were called to 1167 W. Clubhouse Drive on the night of Feb. 9, 2006, after Mejia's body was discovered by her husband when he arrived home from work.

During their investigation, authorities discovered that Mejia was talking to a Hispanic man at her door and he grabbed her by the throat and struck her on the side of the head. According to a police report, the witness informed investigators that Mejia fell to the floor and the man proceeded inside the apartment and kicked the door shut.

Mejia died of strangulation, according to an autopsy. Her fetus did not survive at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

According to the allegations, Taylorsville Police discovered that Mejia's vehicle, as well as a diamond ring and a religious pendant, had been stolen.

2008 murder of Damiana Castillo

West Valley City Police were then called to an apartment at 4000 S. Redwood Road on a report of a dead woman exactly two years after Mejia's murder — and only a mile away.

Castillo was found with marks on her neck, as well as an overturned table and other signs of a fight, according to investigators. Castillo's pocketbook and wallet were found abandoned on a couch, and her jewelry box had been damaged, according to an arrest report.

Castillo died of strangulation, according to an autopsy.

DNA evidence was obtained from Castillo's neck by forensic investigators. Because the DNA profile matched that of Mejia's murder, police were able to connect the two cases. According to court filings, fingerprints recovered from both crime scenes matched.

Investigators still did not know who killed Mejia and Castillo despite the charges against the John Doe DNA profile.

The case has gotten a lot of attention over the years, with the unidentified suspect being dubbed the "February 9th killer" by internet true crime websites.

The case finally broke in 2016, when the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) claimed prints taken from the scenes had been matched to Arreola.