Man Arrested In 1982 Murder

Police: Thomas Cortinas Was Always 'Prime Suspect' In Killing

A 58-year-old man has been arrested and accused of killing a woman more than 27 years ago.

DNA analysis, as well as new interviews with old witnesses, gave police enough evidence to arrest Thomas Ray Cortinas, officials said Monday. Cortinas formerly lived in Pueblo and was arrested in Tennessee.

Cheryl Valdez, 24, was killed on Aug. 31, 1982, after being stabbed once in the chest and once in the abdomen, then run over by a car. Her family asked police last month to review the case.

Pueblo police said Cortinas was a prime suspect in 1982, but the case went cold after a court ruled that a "coercive interview environment" made some of Cortinas' statements inadmissible. The court also cited spousal privilege in ruling that certain information obtained by detectives from Cortinas’ then wife could not be used against him, and the District Attorney’s Office ordered all charges dropped.

The Pueblo Chieftain reported prosecutors initially dropped charges because of concerns over police interrogation techniques and the fact the tapes of the interview were inaudible.

When Valdez was killed, an off-duty police officer saw the incident and gave chase, firing once at a fleeing suspect.

Officer Eloy "Tano" Roybal and other witnesses at the scene were able to identify the suspect's clothing, including a pair of yellow jogging shorts with a white stripe, according to the Pueblo Chieftain.

The clothing was similar to jogging clothes worn by Cortinas.

During the investigation police gathered the clothing, along with towels and a knife from Cortinas' residence and blood was collected from each. When the physical evidence was re-examined, the pocket knife was taken apart and investigators found more blood, as well as a hair or fiber on the knife, according to the Chieftain.

According to the arrest affidavit, witnesses told police Cortinas, his wife and Valdez were involved in drug dealing and Cortinas was upset because he believed Valdez owed him money.

Cortinas is being held in Tennessee pending extradition.