Man wanted for 2 killings 2 years apart arrested, returned to Utah

Sonia Mejia, 29, was 6 months pregnant when she was killed on Feb. 9, 2006, in her Taylorsville apartment. Two years later and a few blocks away, Damiana Castillo, 57, was killed in a similar way in her apartment. Last week, police arrested a man who has been charged with three counts of aggravated murder.

Sonia Mejia, 29, was 6 months pregnant when she was killed on Feb. 9, 2006, in her Taylorsville apartment. Two years later and a few blocks away, Damiana Castillo, 57, was killed in a similar way in her apartment. Last week, police arrested a man who has been charged with three counts of aggravated murder. (Taylorsville Police Department)

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WEST VALLEY CITY — Investigators say he murdered two women on the same day and in the same neighborhood, but two years apart. For years, police only knew him as "John Doe" and had identified him just by his DNA profile.

But now he's been found, arrested and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.

Sonia Mejia, 29, was strangled in her Taylorsville apartment on Feb. 9, 2006. Damiana Castillo, 57, was strangled in her apartment on Feb. 9, 2008, about five blocks away from where Mejia was killed.

In 2010, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office filed murder charges against a DNA profile — a first for a homicide case in Salt Lake County. John Doe was charged with two counts of aggravated murder in 3rd District Court.

Then in 2017, amended information was filed, presumedly with a name added, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. But that file was sealed. In 2018, District Attorney Sim Gill confirmed to that investigators knew who they were looking for.

On Friday, a judge ordered the charges to be unsealed, revealing that Juan Antonio Arreola-Murillo, 41, had been charged with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, all first-degree felonies. Two of the murder charges filed were for the women killed. The third murder charge was for the unborn child of one of the victims, who also did not survive.

Arreola-Murillo was extradited back to Utah from Mexico and booked into jail on Thursday, Jan. 6.

Gill credited "good old-fashioned" police work in connecting the dots to solve the cases and make an arrest. Gill said unsolved cases leave an emptiness for the families of victims, leaving them with no measure of closure or justice. That's why there is no statute of limitations for charging or arresting someone in a homicide investigation, he said.

On Feb. 9, 2006, Mejia was found dead in her bedroom in her apartment, 1167 W. Clubhouse Drive (4000 South), with a ligature around her neck. She was six months pregnant at the time and the unborn child did not survive, according to charging documents.

Mejia's body was found by her husband. Her car and some jewelry were missing. Detectives also found Coke and a bag of Cheetos just inside the doorway, items that the husband said they rarely had in the house, according to the charges. DNA was collected from the items and it was used to file an arrest warrant against John Doe.

A neighbor told police that he observed a man "leaning against the door frame to Ms. Mejia's apartment. Ms. Mejia was standing just inside the door, speaking with the male," the charges state. The man then "grabbed Ms. Mejia by her throat and hit Ms. Mejia on the side of the head. Ms. Mejia fell to the floor inside of the apartment. The male entered the apartment and kicked the door shut."

Two years later, on the same day, Castillo was found deceased near 4000 S. Redwood Road, also with a ligature around her neck, according to charging documents. There appeared to be a struggle near the front door. Castillo's purse had been dumped out and someone had gone through her jewelry boxes, according to police.

Fingerprints and DNA were collected from that crime scene and were found to match the forensic evidence collected from the Mejia case, the charges say.

Gill said Monday that prosecutors believe the Feb. 9 date is simply a coincidence and that the killer did not specifically choose that day to commit his crimes.

In 2009, Taylorsville police announced a joint task force had been formed in an effort to solve the killings, which investigators believed by that time were connected.

In 2016, the fingerprints were matched to Arreola-Murillo, according to the charges. Court records show that he was deported to Mexico in 2008.

Information about where Arreola-Murillo has been in Mexico, how long he has been in custody, or how investigators were able to find him were not released Monday.

"We want to acknowledge Unified Police Department, West Valley City Police Department, and our prosecutors for their diligent work on this case. As well as say thank you to our partner agencies who helped bring Mr. Arreola-Murillo back to Utah," Gill said.

"This is a 15-year-old case where we had multiple victims, so the due diligence to keep at it is important."

West Valley police who investigated the death of Castillo also received praise Monday from their department.

"This is just another testament to the 'never-give-up' attitude of our investigators. Since 2008, multiple detectives have kept trying, kept testing and kept searching for answers in this case. It paid off and we are grateful. We hope that seeing the person responsible for this crime held accountable will bring at least some small measure of peace to Ms. Castillo's family," said spokeswoman Roxeanne Vainuku.


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Pat Reavy is a longtime police and courts reporter. He joined the team in 2021, after many years of reporting at the Deseret News and KSL NewsRadio before that.


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