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Unsealed murder charges reveal alleged 'February 9th killer' is now in custody in Utah

Photos of Damiana Castillo and Sonia Mejia from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification
Photos of Damiana Castillo and Sonia Mejia from the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification
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Recently unsealed charging documents publicly identify the man who investigators believe killed two women in Salt Lake County on the same date two years apart.

Juan Arreola-Murrillo, 41, is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail on charges of aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary.

Arreola is accused of killing 29-year-old Sonia Mejia on February 9, 2006 in Taylorsville, and then exactly 2 years later killing 57-year-old Damiana Castillo in West Valley City.

Court documents reveal investigators have known Arreola’s identity since 2016 when a fingerprint obtained at one of the murder scenes was matched to him. The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to 2News that Arreola was extradited from Mexico to Utah last week.

The Murder of Sonia Mejia

On the night of February 9, 2006, Taylorsville Police were called to 1167 West Clubhouse Drive after Mejia’s body was found by her husband when he returned home from work.

During their investigation, police learned that a neighbor had seen Mejia talking to a Hispanic man at her door and that the man grabbed her by the throat and hit her on the side of the head. The witness told investigators that Mejia fell to the floor and the man went inside the apartment and kicked the door shut, according to an arrest report.

Taylorsville Police also learned that Mejia’s vehicle had been stolen along with a diamond ring and a religious pendant, the charges state.

An autopsy determined that Mejia died from strangulation. She was 24 weeks pregnant, and her fetus did not survive. According to the Unified Police Department, which took over the investigation in 2012, Mejia was sexually assaulted.

Investigators recovered fingerprints and DNA evidence from a bag of Cheetos and a Coke bottle inside her apartment. Mejia’s family said it was unusual that the family would have Cheetos and Coke inside the house and it possibly belonged to the killer.

The Murder of Damiana Castillo

Two years after Mejia's murder, West Valley City Police were called to an apartment at 4000 South Redwood Road on a report of a deceased female.

Investigators noticed ligature marks around Castillo's neck, as well an overturned table and other signs of a struggle. An arrest report indicates that police found Castillo's purse and wallet had been dumped on to a couch and her jewelry box was disturbed.

An autopsy revealed Castillo died by strangulation.

Forensic investigators recovered DNA evidence from Castillo's neck. The DNA profile matched the DNA from Mejia's murder, leading investigators to link the cases. Court documents also say fingerprints recovered from both crime scenes matched each other.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against a ‘John Doe’ in 2010 based on the DNA profile.

Identifying Arreola as the suspect

Even with charges against the John Doe DNA profile, investigators still did not know who killed Mejia and Castillo.

The case received attention over the years in online true crime blogs which called the unknown suspect the 'February 9th killer' .

According to a newly-unsealed probable cause statement, the break in the case came in 2016 when the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) reported prints that were taken from the scene had been matched to Arreola. Investigators reviewed the print match and connected Arreola to samples from the Cheetos bag and Coke bottle in the Mejia case, as well as the wallet in the Castillo case.

In 2017, prosecutors amended the John Doe charges and the court issued an arrest warrant, but those documents were kept under seal. District Attorney Sim Gill told the Deseret News in 2018 that his office knew the identity of the killer, but that the suspect was in another jurisdiction.

The charges were unsealed on Friday after Arreola was extradited to Utah from Mexico. He was extradited at the same time as Fortunato Villagrana, who is accused of fatally shooting a teenager on the streets of Salt Lake City in 2016.

“We have to give them assurances that this will not be a death penalty case in order for us to effectuate the extradition that occurs," Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said. “Whenever you have an unsolved homicide, you leave this wound, you leave this lack of justice. It is about bringing some measure of justice to the victims and some measure of justice to our community as a whole.”

According to court records, Arreola was deported from the U.S. back to his home-country Mexico in October 2008 and there is no record that he returned to the U.S. since that time.

Arreola was arrested by Salt Lake City Police in July 2008 for a fraud and theft case. Arreola pleaded guilty in that case in August 2008, according to court records.

The address listed for Arreola in the 2008 case is on Clubhouse Dr., which is the same apartment complex where Mejia was killed. He has multiple other addresses listed in court records and it's not clear if Arreola was indeed a neighbor of Mejia.

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2News is unable to provide a photo of Arreola due to a 2021 law passed by the Utah State Legislature which restricts release of booking photos from Utah jails.

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