A Riverside County man accused of killing his former girlfriend 13 years ago pleaded not guilty to the crime Wednesday in a Whittier courtroom.
Arturo Johannas Gutierrez, 41, of Perris was arrested on suspicion of murder July 10 in the 1989 suffocation death of his high school sweetheart, Whittier resident Christie Lee Fleming, 25. DNA on cigarette butts left in her condominium, where her body was found, match Gutierrez's, authorities said.
A warrant was issued in 1993 to draw blood from Gutierrez for DNA testing, and although the DNA matched, it also matched 10,750 people of Latino descent, Gutierrez's arrest warrant states. With a more technologically advanced DNA test, Gutierrez's blood, along with Fleming's and three other of her acquaintances, was tested in March. The test concluded that the cigarette butts contained DNA belonging to Gutierrez, authorities said.
"It's still like it's not real to me," said Rhonda Davis, Fleming's sister. "She had so much going for her. She had her life completely in order.... She was in the prime of her life."
On May 13, 1989, Davis found her sister's body on the kitchen floor of Fleming's condo, which she had bought six months earlier. Davis went to the home after her sister failed to arrive for a pre-Mother's Day breakfast.
The condo was in disarray, inconsistent with Fleming's housekeeping habits, Davis said, adding that "she was as neat as a pin."
Gutierrez's arrest warrant states that Fleming was borderline obsessive about both cleanliness and her personal security, leading police to believe that she struggled with her attacker, whom they say she knew.
Her home had no signs of forced entry, the warrant states, and a burnt-out cigarette butt on her kitchen counter and an intact cigarette ash found on her bedroom floor "are in direct contrast to the immaculate manner in which the victim kept her home.... The condominium would not have been left in that state for an extended period of time prior to the murder."
The butt on the counter, along with three others in the trash can, matched Gutierrez's DNA, according to the warrant.
Gutierrez and Fleming had dated in high school, and resumed a relationship in the months preceding the murder, said Bryan "Bud" Fleming, the victim's father. She soon ended the relationship, the elder Fleming said.
He and Davis are hoping for an end to their 13-year quest for justice. "I prayed every night, and I never thought [the arrest] would happen," Davis said. "My prayer now is for a guilty verdict."