SOUTH JORDAN — Through "tireless" investigative work over what Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder described as a "72-hour odyssey," two people have been taken in custody in the "extremely violent" killing of a Magna mother of two during an apparent robbery.
Jason Alan Black, 26, of Kearns, was shot Thursday night by members of the Violent Fugitive Apprehension Strike Team from the U.S. Marshals Office after he allegedly brandished a weapon at officers.
Police say Black is the "prime suspect" in the killing of Natalia Casagrande, 24, who was found dead in the basement of her Magna home Tuesday night.
After Black was shot and hospitalized, Estephania Sanchez-Mendoza, 24, of West Jordan, was arrested late Thursday for investigation of aggravated robbery resulting in serious bodily injury and obstruction of justice. Police say she was at Casagrande's home at the time of her death, possibly as a getaway driver.
A white 2014 Toyota Corolla matching the description of a vehicle that neighbors reported seeing leaving the Magna home on Tuesday was found at Sanchez's home Thursday and seized. A search warrant was being drafted late Friday afternoon to go through the vehicle.
The arrests were the culmination of a hectic 72 hours of nearly nonstop investigation by the Unified Police Department.
"I am extremely proud of our investigators as they have doggedly pursued these individuals," Winder said. "I believe this represents a classic and extremely good example of a homicide investigation to this point."
The case started Tuesday night with a "very harrowing" 911 call made by Casagrande's common-law husband, Steve Arceo, who arrived home to find his wife dead in what he described as "a pool of blood."
Although police had not yet said how the woman was killed, Winder called her death "extremely violent" and "brutal." He said a weapon was used, though he declined to say Friday what it was. Police previously said Casagrande suffered numerous injuries.
Winder remained guarded Friday about releasing too much information about a motive for the crime. He said both Casagrande and her husband knew Black, describing him as an acquaintance, and said Black was scheduled to be at their home on Tuesday.
"Mr. Black did know the victim and her husband and had gone to the home and was engaged in some felonious activity, we're not quite clear what that activity was," the sheriff said, while further describing Black as a "person known to them who would be allowed in their home."
Winder did not know how long the couple had known Black or how they met, and did not disclose the purpose of the meeting. He declined to say whether drugs may have been involved.
Once inside the home, "something went wrong," he said, without going into detail.
A Salt Lake County Jail report described the event as a "home invasion robbery." Sanchez was seen by neighbors sitting in a car before she pulled it into the garage and then left at a high rate of speed, the report states.
Neighbors in Casagrande's neighborhood reported hearing a loud bang and seeing a white car at her home about an hour before her body was discovered.
Based on interviews with several witnesses, Winder said Black became a suspect in the crime early in the investigation.
The couple's two daughters, ages 5 and 18 months, were inside the home at the time of their mother's death. A family member said the 5-year-old had choke marks on her neck and a pillow over her face, according to KSTU, which did not identify the family member. Winder declined to say Friday if the girl was able to identify Black.
The child was physically doing better and with family members on Friday, according to police.
Casagrande and her husband had been texting each other frequently prior to her death. When Casagrande hadn't responded to one of his texts for a while, that's when the husband became concerned and went home, according to Unified police. Investigators declined to say Friday if the meeting with Black was part of their texting conversation.
The investigation led the strike team to a house in South Jordan at 10254 S. Temple View Circle (2340 West) late Thursday where Black's parents live. Winder said the group had a search warrant in hand to look for undisclosed items believed to have been taken from Casagrande's home. Officers were not necessarily expecting Black to be there but were prepared nonetheless.
Black's father answered the door and cooperated with police, Winder said. He told agents that his son was inside. "Immediately upon entry, (they) encountered him with a firearm" in a hallway, Winder said. A weapon was brandished by Black and a "gun battle" erupted, the sheriff said.
Multiple shots were fired at Black who was struck "several times," according to Winder. It was unknown Friday if Black shot at officers.
Unified police confirmed Friday that at least two officers were on paid administrative leave from their agencies pending the outcome of an officer-involved shooting investigation. One of those officers is from the Unified Police Department. Investigators said a third officer may also have fired his weapon, but Unified police did not have confirmation of that information Friday.
Black was hospitalized in critical condition but was upgraded to serious condition Friday after undergoing surgery. No officers were injured in Thursday night's incident.
After the shooting, investigators worked throughout the night collecting more evidence. They went to Sanchez's West Jordan house where more items from the Magna home were found and she was arrested.
In addition to those locations, Winder said a Sandy motel is also part of the investigation. Sanchez had rented a room for Black and bought him clothes, a report states.
Winder said he did not anticipate any additional arrests in connection with Casagrande's death.
Both Black and Sanchez have minor criminal histories in Utah, according to court records.
Black was convicted of DUI, a class B misdemeanor, in 2012, and driving on a denied license in 2014, in addition to a handful of other traffic and motor vehicle offenses. Sanchez's only Utah court record is a DUI conviction in 2013.
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