Suspect arrested 7 years after allegedly murdering Utah mother of 3, fleeing country

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Posted at 5:13 PM, Oct 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-03 00:09:18-04

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — A man who was charged with murdering a Utah woman in 2015 has been arrested.

Francisco Jesus Huerta-Martinez, 41, was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail Saturday on felony-level counts of murder, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice. Police confirmed to FOX 13 News that his arrest was in connection with the death of Maria Maricela Astorga-Chavez, who went missing in August 2015 out of West Valley City and was found dead in Colorado just over a week later. She was 32 years old and had three sons, according to her obituary.

Neither police nor Salt Lake County prosecutors could provide any further details about Huerta-Martinez's arrest on Sunday. However, court documents from 2015 show that he was formally charged with the murder of Astorga-Chavez.

On Aug. 13, 2015, West Valley City Police asked the public to keep an eye out for Astorga-Chavez, who had not been seen by her family in about a week. They also said she was acting out of character leading up to her disappearance. She was last seen getting into a vehicle with a man known as "Javier Huerta" — which, according to court records, was one of many aliases that Huerta-Martinez was also known by.

Astorga-Chavez was found dead on the side of Interstate 70 in Colorado on Aug. 16, 2015, and Huerta-Martinez was then named as a suspect.

Two days after the body was found, police searched Huerta-Martinez's residence in the Salt Lake area. According to charging documents, they found items that appeared to match other things that were found with Astorga-Chavez's body: two comforter bags that matched the pair of comforters that her body was wrapped in; no bedding on his bed; a photo of him standing in his bedroom with what a comforter in the background that matched one she was wrapped in; an iron with the cord cut off, which matched the electrical cord that was wrapped around the victim's body and the comforters; and beer bottles with fingerprints of both the victim and the suspect.

The Colorado medical examiner determined that Astorga-Chavez died by homicide, with the cause of death being asphyxiation due to strangulation.

During the investigation, police learned that Huerta-Martinez was planning to travel to Mexico, and he had confessed to a friend that he strangled someone to death and dumped the body on the side of a road in Colorado. They obtained a bus manifesto that showed he boarded a bus to Queretaro, Mexico, on Aug. 10, 2015.

Huerta-Martinez was charged with murder, aggravated robbery and obstructing justice on Oct. 14, 2015. A warrant was issued for his arrest with a million-dollar bail. Court documents showed no developments in the case since then, but he was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail on Saturday on these same charges, along with a "federal detainees" hold.

Information about how, when and where Huerta-Martinez was ultimately found and taken into custody was not available. FOX 13 News will provide updates to this story as details become available.