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Man pleads guilty, sentenced in 2018 kidnapping, murder of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia

Posted at 4:02 PM, Jun 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-03 18:02:15-04

DENVER – The man charged with kidnapping a mother of three outside of a bar in Longmont in March 2018 and killing her pleaded guilty Friday to murder and kidnapping counts and was sentenced to another several decades in prison on top of the decades he is already serving.

Juan Jose Figueroa Jr., 33, pleaded guilty Friday to one count of second-degree murder and one count of first-degree kidnapping in connection with the murder of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia, 34, who disappeared from the parking lot of 3’s Bar in Longmont early in the morning of March 18, 2018, after a night out.

Figueroa was named as a suspect in Gutierrez-Garcia’s disappearance shortly after it occurred, but he was not charged until last year. He was originally indicted by a grand jury on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder and second-degree kidnapping.

And on May 19 of this year, Longmont police and the Boulder District Attorney’s Office announced he would plead guilty in the case and had assisted, as part of the agreement, in pointing authorities to the location of Gutierrez-Garcia’s body. His trial in the case was set to start at the end of May prior to his confession and the plea agreement.

Authorities said he told them the exact location of her remains, and they were located from an area in Weld County east of Longmont.

Prosecutors and police met with Gutierrez-Garcia’s mother and sisters to tell them her remains had been discovered on that same night.

Several of them testified at the hearing on Friday.

Figueroa will serve the maximum 48-year sentence on the murder count and 12 years for the kidnapping count, consecutive to the 93 years to life in prison he is already serving at a prison in Cañon City for attempted murder and sex assault convictions in a separate case.

The indictment and probable cause statement provided by the district attorney’s office say Figueroa had been in the same bar as Gutierrez-Garcia at some point on that night of St. Patrick’s Day and that he kidnapped her from the parking lot.

The documents showed her phone traveling on the same path as Figueroa’s truck in the early morning hours of March 18, and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation found DNA consistent with Gutierrez-Garcia’s inside his truck. Figueroa also admitted to strangling her and disposing of her body to a fellow cellmate of his, according to the documents.

Officials and Gutierrez-Garcia’s family spoke after the court hearing, praising the various agencies and family members who worked tirelessly to find her and to solve the case.

Jessica Reyes, one of Gutierrez-Garcia’s sisters, thanked the team who worked on the case, calling them “true heroes.”

“We’ve always had to, due to legalities, protect the integrity of the case, and that’s always been my main priority,” she said. “And I know that Juan Figueroa has tried to hide from himself and his heinous actions, but today, his actions are exposed, and he is exposed.”

“This is Rita’s victor day. We knew we would be here. We always knew we would bring her home and bring her justice,” she added.

Diane Romero, Gutierrez-Garcia’s mother, called Friday “a blessing from God for us all.”

“We have Rita. As the judge said, there is justice, if you want to call it that,” she said. “We will never have Rita, but we have the justice that we will be given, and Juan will be where he should be and he will never be able to hurt anyone again.”

“That family is nothing short of remarkable. They are remarkable people,” said Katharina Booth, the chief deputy district attorney. “If Rita is even just a little bit like her sisters and mother, we know this world lost a remarkable person.”

District Attorney Michael Dougherty said his team felt good that they and the grand jury were able to bring “some sort of justice” to her family after years of work in trying to develop the case without a body while still trying to find her.

“It’s my true hope today we provided some justice to her loved ones…it’s been an honor to work with her family and fight for justice on behalf of Rita and all of them,” Dougherty said. “…As much as they are victims, they are heroes.”

“I know Rita is looking down on us right now and she’s probably doing some crazy little dance,” Romero said with a laugh. “And I’m so glad for that.”