Uintah County homicide investigation leads to arrest in California

Published: Thursday, Jan. 24 2013 6:46 p.m. MST

VERNAL — A man accused of beating his cousin to death inside the Uintah County mobile home they shared has been arrested by federal agents in Southern California.

Jose Eduardo Leiva-Perez, 34, was taken into custody Jan. 17 in Riverside County by the U.S. Marshals Joint Criminal Apprehension Team, Uintah County Undersheriff John Laursen said Thursday.

The announcement came one day after an 8th District Court judge unsealed a warrant for Leiva-Perez's arrest on one count of murder, a first-degree felony. The warrant was signed Jan. 10, three days after the body of David Urrutia was discovered inside the mobile home where he and Leiva-Perez had lived.

"The arrest warrant was sealed because we did have a belief that he was going to flee the country," Laursen said.

A deputy was called to the Country Village trailer park near Fort Duchesne on Jan. 7 to check on Urrutia's welfare. One of the man's sisters had reported that Urrutia, 39, was not answering his phone and had been in "an altercation," according to court records.

The deputy found Urrutia dead inside the trailer.

An autopsy determined that he died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head, court records show. It also found that Urrutia had suffered no defensive wounds, was probably "lying on the couch/bed in the trailer" when he was attacked, and "would not have been aware that the assault was about to take place."

A family member told investigators Leiva-Perez called her from California after Urrutia's body was found. He told her three men had come to the trailer and beaten Urrutia with baseball bats, and that he had been able to escape, court records state. The woman told investigators Leiva-Perez also claimed Urrutia had been taken to an area hospital for treatment.

In court records, a sheriff's detective wrote that the trailer where Urrutia was found was too small to be occupied by five grown men at the same time, as Leiva-Perez had claimed. He also noted that neither the hospitals nor the ambulance services in the area had any record of treating Urrutia.

Through interviews with co-workers and family members, detectives said they learned that Urrutia had withdrawn a "large amount" of money from the bank days before his death. Authorities only found "a small amount of change" in his trailer, court records state.

Still, Laursen said, investigators remain uncertain about the actual motive for the killing, which has devastated both men's families.

"It's a very hard situation for them and our hearts go out to them, not only to lose one (person), but they actually lost two people in the family," the undersheriff said. 

Leiva-Perez, a Guatemalan national who federal officials say has been deported from the United States once before, was being held without bail in the Riverside County Jail while he awaits extradition to Utah.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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