Four Years After Rita Gutierrez-Garcia Disappeared, Her Killer Was Brought to Justice

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Four Years After Rita Gutierrez-Garcia Disappeared, Her Killer Was Brought to Justice

Rita Gutierrez-Garcia

Four Years After Rita Gutierrez-Garcia Disappeared, Her Killer Was Brought to Justice

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

In March 2018, 34-year-old Rita Gutierrez-Garcia was out with friends in Longmont, Colo. celebrating St. Patrick’s Day when she vanished. According to CBS News, her remains were finally found four years later “east of Longmont in Weld County” when a man by the name of Juan Figueroa, Jr. told police where he buried her. Without identification, authorities had to use DNA evidence to establish it was the body of Gutierrez-Garcia. Where is Juan Figueroa, Jr. now? Dateline has the story.

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Juan Figueroa, Jr. will be in prison for a very long time.

Currently, Figueroa is serving a 48-year sentence for the kidnapping and murder of Gutierrez-Garcia, at Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. The Longmont Leader reported that Figueroa “pled guilty to second degree murder and first degree kidnapping.” His plea deal stated that Figueroa can serve his sentence concurrently with a 93-year sentence he was already chipping away at when he was charged with the murder of Gutierrez-Garcia. His other sentence was for the sexual assault of an unidentified Longmont woman.

Juan Figueroa Jr.

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The plea deal also came with special conditions. Figueroa had to provide a “written confession and video taped interview” as well as provide “information assisting in the location and recovery of Gutierrez-Garcia’s remains.” Diane Romero, Gutierrez-Garcia’s mother, read a moving victim impact statement at the sentencing. “My god says forgive as he has forgiven us, but I believe God also knows I am a human and forgiveness is something difficult and nowhere near in sight,” she said. “Now I have some sort of peace knowing she is no longer missing.”

What happened to Rita Gutierrez-Garcia?

Figueroa struck up a conversation with Gutierrez-Garcia the night he killed her. In his confession, Figueroa said he was attracted to her but she did not reciprocate, turning him down. Later on in the evening when Figueroa saw Gutierrez-Garcia by herself, he though he’d give it another try. At this point she called him a “weirdo” and per Figueroa’s own admittance, he snapped.

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Rita Gutierrez-Garcia with two of her three sons

Figueroa punched Gutierrez-Garcia which knocked her unconscious. He then dragged to his truck where he “assaulted her and strangled her to death,” via the Longmont Leader. While being sentenced, Figueroa attempted to blame local police for his actions citing the fact that they pulled him over earlier that night for drunk driving, but never arrested him. “Why didn’t that cop arrest me that night,” he asked. “I wouldn’t be here looking at murder charges.”

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The judge overseeing Figueroa’s sentencing made sure to point out that only Figueroa was to blame for his actions that night. “You killed a beautiful, innocent woman who had the bad luck running across you,” the judge told him. “There’s no rational explanation…You receive a reduced sentence; Rita’s family gets some knowledge about what happened to her. Is that justice? Under the law, sure. Is it deserved, 48 years? Absolutely.”

In turn, Figueroa addressed Gutierrez-Garcia’s family. “To the victim, I’m sorry. To all of yous, I’m really sorry,” he said tearfully. “I have a mother. My mom’s the only one who raised me my whole life. I’ve never had a father and I love my mom dearly. I’m sorry I took Rita from yous. I really am.”

For more on this story, tune into Dateline Friday March 10 at 9:00 p.m. EST on NBC.

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Min Jin Lee

Free Food for Millionaires, Min Jin Lee's debut novel, was named one of the "Top 10 Novels of the Year" by The Times (London), NPR's Fresh Air, and USA Today. Her short stories have appeared on NPR's Selected Shorts. Her work has featured in Condé Nast Traveler, The Times (London), Vogue, Travel+Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Food & Wine. Her articles and literary criticism have been frequently anthologized. She was a columnist for the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's major newspaper. Her family and she live in New York.

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