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Charges filed in 2006 Taylorsville slaying: 'John Doe' suspect is DNA profile

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 10 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

TAYLORSVILLE — Prosecutors have filed two counts of aggravated murder in connection with the slaying four years ago of a woman and her unborn son.

Rather than filing against a person, however, the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office has filed a charge against a "John Doe" with a specific DNA profile. It's believed to be the first time such a charge has been filed in a homicide case in Salt Lake County.

By filing a charge linked to a DNA profile, prosecutors will now be alerted anytime a match is entered into a national criminal database.

Sonia Mejia, 29, who was six months pregnant, was strangled to death inside her Taylorsville apartment at 1167 W. Clubhouse Drive (4000 South) on Feb. 9, 2006. She was the first victim of what became known as the "February 9th murders."

On the same date, exactly two years later and just a short distance away from where Mejia was killed, Damiana Castillo, 57, also was strangled inside her apartment near 4000 South and Redwood Road.

On Monday, just a day shy of the four-year anniversary of Mejia's death, prosecutors filed two counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual assault against John Doe in 3rd District Court.

The morning Mejia was killed, a witness had spotted a man leaning against the door and talking with her, according to court records. That man was holding a bottle of soda pop and a bag of chips.

The witness said the man "hit Ms. Mejia on the side of the head, pushed her into the apartment and kicked the door shut," the charges state.

When Mejia's common-law husband returned from work that evening, he found her body on a bed with a dark blue bandana around her mouth and a wire around her neck, court records state. A bag of Cheetos and a Coke were found in the doorway. An orange substance, appearing to be from Cheetos, was found on the woman's breast, the charges state.

Her car keys, vehicle, a heart-shaped ring, diamond ring and a religious pendant were missing from her apartment. Her car was found abandoned at a motel four days later.

Last year, on the anniversaries of both Mejia's and Castillo's deaths, West Valley and Taylorsville police announced the formation of an eight-member task force to investigate both slayings, saying that forensic evidence showed the same person was responsible for both.

Tuesday, both the DA's office and police declined to discuss the possibility of charges being filed in the Castillo murder.

"The investigation is ongoing," said Deputy District Attorney Alicia Cook.

In 2009, police did not have answers for a possible motive in both slayings and whether there was any significance to the Feb. 9 date or if it was merely a coincidence. They said they were looking for a young Hispanic male, possibly in his late teens or early 20s, 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighing 135 to 150 pounds, with short black hair.

On Tuesday, which was Feb. 9, police had extra patrols in the areas where the two murders had occurred, and officers encouraged women to be a little more aware of their surroundings as they went about their daily activities, said West Valley Police Sgt. Mike Powell. Investigators were also out re-canvassing the area and looking for anyone who might have seen something regarding the slayings.

"We are still actively investigating," Powell said. "We want to talk to anyone who might have information involved with the cases."

Prosecutors in Utah first filed John Doe charges in 2000 in connection with the 1996 rape of a University of Utah student. In 2002, Donald Younge Jr. was booked into the St. Clair County Jail in Belleville, Ill. His DNA was entered into a national database, and authorities in Utah were alerted after it matched the John Doe profile.

Younge, who was a suspected serial killer in Illinois, was later linked to the 1999 slaying of U. theater student Amy Quinton.

Younge was sentenced earlier this year to 31 years in prison for the unrelated 1996 rape. He faces a possible death penalty sentence if convicted in the Quinton case.

Anyone with information on either of the Feb. 9 homicides may call police at 801-965-5121.

e-mail: preavy@desnews.com

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