Longmont Police Focused on Rita Gutierrez-Garcia Suspect Within Days of Her Disappearance, DA Says
Longmont police focused on Juan Jose Figueroa Jr. as a suspect in the disappearance of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia within days of opening their investigation, a prosecutor revealed in court Wednesday.
It was also revealed that Figueroa was in Mexico crossing the border back into the United States when he was arrested on charges stemming from a 2017 sexual assault in Longmont.
The victim in the sexual assault case attended Wednesday’s bond hearing, along with a number of Longmont police officers. Figueroa is accused of strangling and raping a woman in November 2017. He was charged with first-degree assault and five separate counts of sexual assault.
At the hearing, Boulder District Judge Judy LaBuda upheld Figueroa’s $1 million cash bond, saying he is a flight risk and poses a safety risk to the community.
That case is scheduled to go to a jury trial in December.
Longmont police last month named Figueroa a suspect in the March disappearance of Gutierrez-Garcia, who is presumed dead. He was the last person she was seen speaking with that night.
Police have asked for the public’s help in finding her body, and her half-brother Omar Holguin is organizing regular search parties in rural areas around Boulder County.
Public defender Sam Dunn argued in court Wednesday that parts of the district attorney’s argument against lowering Figueroa’s bond were inaccurate, including the assertion that Figueroa had fled to Mexico after a warrant was issued for his arrest in the sexual assault case on March 24.
According to the motion to lower Figueroa’s bond, Figueroa crossed the border at Eagle Pass, Texas, into Mexico on March 22.
First Assistant District Attorney Katharina Booth admitted she had made a “misstatement” in prior arguments and clarified her argument.
On March 20 and 21, only a few days after Gutierrez-Garcia disappeared after celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Longmont with friends, police visited Figueroa’s family members while trying to find him and speak with him about the sexual assault case . Booth said he was “also a suspect in another very aggravated case in Longmont” at that point.
His mother told Figueroa that police wanted to speak with him, according to Booth, and two days later he was in Crystal City, Texas, with family — about one hour east of Eagle Pass, which sits right on the border with Mexico.
While with his family, Booth said he told them that he “was in a lot of trouble with the courts.”
To be clear, Booth said, she isn’t certain he was fleeing from the sexual assault case. According to her, Figueroa could have been fleeing from his other two, less serious cases, or the sexual assault case, “or the case that he is a suspect in with the disappearance of Rita (Gutierrez-Garcia).”
He went to Mexico and tried to rent an apartment with a one-year lease, she said, and learned about the sexual assault case and potential lack of bond from his public defender. According to Booth, he was texting his public defender and asking if the arrest warrant was national or local.
While in Mexico, he also was speaking with someone in Longmont who offered to pay his bond and give him a job if he returned, according to Booth. Figueroa told that person they probably wouldn’t see each other unless Gunter went to Mexico, she said.
Figueroa was arrested by a U.S. Customs & Border Protection agent in Texas while crossing back into the United States on March 27.
According to a police report, Figueroa was born in the United States.
Dunn also argued that Figueroa does not pose a flight risk, as he is a lifelong resident of Longmont and his truck was seized by the police for the investigation. He also said that Figueroa would be able to stay with his mother in Longmont if he is released from jail. He asked that Figueroa’s bond be lowered to $25,000 or $50,000 cash, surety or property.
Dunn also said that an allegation from the arrest affidavit in the sexual assault case is not true. According to video surveillance submitted in discovery, Figueroa is not shown dragging the victim by her hair up the stairs of his residence, as the affidavit says.
However, Booth argued that the video does not capture the complete length of the stairs, and that the accuracy of the allegations in the case will be determined by the jury and aren’t relevant to the bond.
She also said that Figueroa has “sporadic stability” and that she doesn’t know that he’s always been a Longmont resident, as he has had a Texas driver’s license and has gone to school there as well.
He has also lived in his car or by couch-surfing in the past, she said, which would make it difficult for police to find him. He also often doesn’t have a phone, which would make communication with his lawyer hard as well.
In prosecutors’ interviews with Figueroa’s mother and two sisters, they said they didn’t talk to him much or at all, that they didn’t allow him over and that he has “burned too many bridges.”
Madeline St. Amour: 303-684-5212, firstname.lastname@example.org