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Man extradited from Mexico, charged with 'Feb. 9 murders' of two Utah women

Posted at 12:40 PM, Jan 10, 2022

SALT LAKE COUNTY, Utah — A man has been extradited from Mexico to face charges, including murder, in Utah.

According to a news release, Juan Antonio Arreola-Murillo was booked into Salt Lake County Jail late Thursday evening. He's facing charges of Aggravated Murder (2 Counts), Aggravated Robbery and Aggravated Burglary (2 Counts).

Arreola is suspected of killing 29-year-old Sonia Mejia in Taylorsville on February 9, 2006, and then killing 57-year-old Damiana Castillo in West Valley City exactly two years later.

He faces life in prison if convicted, but not the death penalty. Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that's due to complexities with extraditing the 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.”

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Sonia Mejia and Damiana Castillo died one mile and two years apart, and police have long believed the same man murdered them.

Investigators have known Arreola's identity since 2016, when a fingerprint found at one of the murder scenes was matched to him, according to newly revealed court records.

Taylorsville Police were called to 1167 West Clubhouse Drive on the night of February 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.

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

Mejia died of strangulation, according to an autopsy. Her fetus did not survive at 24 weeks of pregnancy. Mejia was sexually assaulted, according to the Unified Police Department, which took up the case in 2012.

Fingerprints and DNA evidence were discovered inside her apartment in a bag of Cheetos and a Coke bottle. The presence of Cheetos and Coke in Mejia's home was odd, according to his family, and it could have belonged to the killer.

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

Damiana 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 scene had been matched to Arreola, according to a newly-unsealed probable cause statement. Investigators examined the print match and linked Arreola to samples from the Mejia case's Cheetos bag and Coke bottle, as well as the Castillo case's wallet.

The John Doe charges were revised in 2017, and the court issued an arrest warrant, but the records were kept under wraps. After Arreola was extradited to Utah from Mexico, the charges were unsealed on Friday.

The Tribune reported that when the links between the Mejia and Castillo slayings were identified in 2009, the police departments of West Valley City and Taylorsville organized a task team. When the anniversaries rolled around, the two forces would send extra police to patrol the two cities in order to prevent a third slaying.