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Killer found, police say

Crispin Solorio Garcia, who police say stabbed a 13-year-old Murrieta girl to death, is in jail in Mexico. Officials hope he will be extradited.

June 16, 2007|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

The 11-year manhunt for the estranged boyfriend of a 13-year-old Murrieta girl whose body was found in a field in 1996 came to an end when authorities found the man in a Mexican jail earlier this month incarcerated under a false name.

For years, U.S. local and federal authorities have been searching for Crispin Solorio Garcia, the last person seen with eighth-grader Sophia Briseno. She vanished on a February afternoon in 1996 after telling her mother she was going to meet Garcia, then 17, according to police.

Murrieta police questioned Garcia soon after the girl was reported missing, but had little evidence and he was not taken into custody. He had told the girl's mother he dropped Sophia off at a store not far from her home.

Six days after Sophia's disappearance, a man walking his dog found the girl's body east of Laurel Cemetery in Murrieta with multiple stab wounds inflicted by a screwdriver.

By that time, law enforcement officials say, Garcia had fled to Mexico with an accomplice, Francisco Gonzalez Ochoa, whose alleged role in the incident is not clear. Both were Mexican citizens living in the U.S. illegally.

The Riverside County district attorney's office charged both men with murder in 1996.

Garcia's case is still in the juvenile court system, though he is now 28. If he returns to answer to charges, officials said a judge would hold a special hearing at which Garcia would probably be deemed "unfit" for the juvenile system because of his age. The juvenile court's jurisdiction ends at age 21, but Garcia cannot face the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the crime, officials said.

Authorities would not elaborate on evidence that might link Garcia to the crime. They have said a possible motive was that Sophia was falsely telling friends she was pregnant with Garcia's child in an attempt to revive their relationship.

In another key break, police were told that after the killing one of the suspects brought a witness to the field to show Sophia's body.

Donald Roberts, the FBI special agent on the case, said once Garcia fled the country he disappeared "off the radar."

"It's been very difficult to get any credible, verifiable information from family and associates about his whereabouts," Roberts said. "We just had nothing prior to a year ago to sink our teeth into.... He had no fingerprints, no arrest history."

Last year, the FBI's Inland Regional Apprehension Team learned that Garcia had been living in Michoacan, Mexico, and began working with Mexican authorities to track him down.

After officials sifted through photographs and matched tattoos, Garcia was located in a jail in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, where he was incarcerated for an attempted robbery under the name of Ismael Gomez Solorio.

Riverside County Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeanne Roy, who heads the office's fugitive apprehension unit, said the office hoped Mexican officials would agree to send Garcia back to the United States by the end of the year, after he finishes serving time on the attempted robbery charges in Mexico.

"The fact that [Mexican officials] issued the [provisional] arrest warrant is a very good sign," she said. "Traditionally, Mexico has not extradited juveniles to be tried as adults."

Garcia could face from 26 years to life in prison if he returns to the United States to answer to the charges and is convicted. Ochoa is still believed to be at large in Mexico.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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