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HELPER — Heidi Jones-Asay remembers clearly the morning she found her mother dead in the living room when she was 4 years old.
"I looked through the keyhole and I opened the door … and it was my mom," Jones-Asay said.
That was more than 46 years ago, when police say 23-year-old Loretta Jones was raped and killed inside her Carbon County home. On Thursday, the Colorado man who investigators believe killed Jones was arrested and charged for a second time in connection with the heinous crime.
Thomas Edward Egley, 76, was charged Thursday in 7th District Court with the legal equivalent of first-degree felony murder, as well as rape, a first-degree felony.
Egley's official charge is criminal homicide, murder in the second degree, which was the statutory offense that applied to the killing at the time under Utah law.
U.S. marshals arrested Egley without incident in Rocky Ford, Colorado, where he lives, on a $1 million warrant issued Thursday, the Utah Attorney General's Office announced. He is now awaiting extradition to Utah.
Jones-Asay said she's filled with gratitude that the man accused of murdering her mother is behind bars.
"I can't even describe how I feel," she said, wiping away a tear. "It's wonderful. Wonderful."
Jones was in the living room of her home in Price, 468 E. 400 South, when she was raped and killed on July 30, 1970, investigators said. Heidi, who was just 4 years old, was in the home at the time Jones was killed and discovered her body the next morning. The young girl alerted a neighbor that she believed "her mommy is dead," according to court documents.
Police questioned Egley two days after Jones' death after receiving an anonymous phone tip, and he was later arrested and charged in the case. However, after a Nov. 5, 1970, preliminary hearing, a judge tossed the case, saying there wasn't enough evidence to send Egley to trial.
Egley moved to Colorado in 1971, where he has lived ever since.
After officials exhumed Loretta Jones' body in June, Egley talked with his neighbor, asking her "how long DNA evidence … lasted," according to his charges.
In the ensuing conversation, the neighbor persuaded Egley to "come clean" with police, court documents say. On July 8, investigators from Carbon County met with Egley at his home, where charges allege he "admitted to 'slitting Loretta's throat.'"
On July 16, Egley confessed to his neighbor in more detail, saying he raped and stabbed Jones after she rejected his advances, prosecutors say.
"Egley stated: 'I was there for sex. … I was turned down for sex. … She went to the kitchen or something after that … and when she came back, I stabbed her … in the living room. She fell … in front of the couch,'" charges state.
Egley allegedly admitted to raping Jones, slitting her throat and then leaving the home.
No initial court date has so far been set in Egley's case.
Police reopened the cold case in 2009 at the request of Jones-Asay. It was then that Jones-Asay ran into Carbon County Sheriff's Sgt. David Brewer, a former high school classmate of hers, at the Helper Arts and Music Festival, and asked him to look into her mother's case.
On Thursday, the same day the charges were filed following an exhaustive seven-year review into the case, the two caught up with each other again on opening night at the same festival.
"Everything happens for a reason," Jones-Asay said.
In June, when Jones-Asay and police both cited progress in the investigation as reason to be optimistic that it would be solved soon, she recalled fond memories with her mother.
"We played games together. We went and got ice cream together," she said at the time.
Carbon County Attorney Gene Strate praised the county sheriff’s office for making Thursday’s charges possible.
“The community of Carbon County, particularly the victim's daughter who was 4 years old at the time, can finally find solace in knowing Loretta Jones’ family will have the justice they deserve resulting from the tragic death of Ms. Jones some 45 years ago,” Strate said in a statement. “Sgt. (David) Brewer and detective (Wally) Hendricks from the Carbon County Sheriff's Office should be commended for their efforts."
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes echoed Strate’s sentiments.
“We’re grateful for the hard work that Carbon County investigators put into solving this 45-year-old cold case,” Reyes said in a statement. “I hope this arrest brings some measure of closure to the family, even after all these years.”
Court documents also shed light on the initial investigation into Jones' death.
A medical examination concluded Jones suffered 14 stab wounds to her back, two to her chest and one to her throat, and that she died from internal bleeding due to injuries to her heart, lungs and pulmonary artery.
In the initial investigation, Egley allegedly admitted to being in Price on the night Jones was killed but couldn’t provide a verifiable alibi, court documents say. After police reopened the case, Egley’s ex-wife told investigators he came home “uncharacteristically late” and “took a bath in his clothing" on the night in question.
“(Egley’s ex-wife) told investigators that when she asked Egley where he had been, Egley admitted to bringing hamburgers to a woman and her daughter,” charging documents say.
Egley then gathered some of his clothing the next day, saying he was taking it to a laundromat, and instead destroyed it inside a barrel outside the business, charges state.
Contributing: Andrew Adams