More than four years after Rita Gutierrez-Garcia disappeared from a bar in Longmont, Juan Figueroa Jr. has been sentenced to 48 years in prison for her kidnapping and murder.
Figueroa, 33, pled guilty to second degree murder and first degree kidnapping on Friday in Boulder District Court. As part of the plea agreement, Figueroa will serve the maximum 48 years concurrently with the 93 years he is currently serving for an unrelated sexual assault case of another Longmont woman.
Gutierrez-Garcia was last seen on March 18, 2018 at 3’s Bar in Longmont, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with friends and family. She had left the bar around 2:30 a.m. and Figueroa was identified as an early suspect.
Nearly a year ago to the day, a Grand Jury indicted Figueroa for first-degree murder and kidnapping of Gutierrez-Garcia. The case moved forward as the prosecution of a “no-body homicide,” since Rita’s remains had not been recovered.
Special conditions of the plea deal included Figueroa providing a written confession and video taped interview, along with providing information assisting in the location and recovery of Gutierrez-Garcia’s remains. Investigators found human remains, later verified to be Gutierrez-Garcia’s, in Weld County, east of Longmont on April 28 with the information provided by Figueroa.
First Assistant District Attorney Katharina Booth explained the circumstances of the murder, as described by Figueroa, asking the judge to accept the plea deal outlined in court and agreed to by the defence.
Booth said that Figueroa was attracted to Gutierrez-Garcia and attempted to talk to her the night he killed her. She rejected him, but he saw her later in the night alone and said he offered a ride home. Gutierrez-Garcia declined and called Figueroa a “weirdo,” Booth said.
Booth said Figueroa then punched Gutierrez-Garcia in the head, knocking her unconscious, dragging her to his truck before he assaulted her and strangled her to death.
Family members of Gutierrez-Garcia, including her mother, two sisters, step sister and step father spoke and read statements from two of Gutierrez-Garcia’s three sons, who are now 13 and 17 years old. They commemorated Gutierrez-Garcia’s life, expressed their anger at Figueroa and emphasized the four year battle it took to finally find closure.
“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,” said Diane Romero, Gutierrez-Garcia’s mother. “… Now I have some sort of peace knowing she is no longer missing.”
The family and prosecutor also expressed their belief that Figueroa took this plea deal for selfish reasons.
Figueroa spoke, often through tears, explaining his actions and stating that he was exercising his “American right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.” He also claimed that he came across a police officer who saw Figueroa driving drunk, but let him go.
“Why didn’t that cop arrest me that night?” he said. “I wouldn’t be here looking at murder charges.”
He said he believes he became insane when Gutierrez-Garcia called him a “weirdo,” snapping and killing her. Figueroa added that he was “constantly harassed” by Longmont police over the past four years.
“To the victim, I’m sorry. To all of yous, I’m really sorry,” Figueroa said. “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.”
After Figueroa spoke, the Boulder judge emphasized that the police officer Figueroa said he saw that night was not what led to Figueroa being persecuted for murder, but Figueroa’s own actions.
“You killed a beautiful, innocent woman who had the bad luck running across you,” the judge said. “There’s no rational explanation. I understand that this plea agreement is a carefully considered bargain. 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.”