(CBS4) – A grand jury in Boulder County has indicted Juan Jose Figueroa Jr. on kidnapping and murder charges in the high profile Rita Gutierrez-Garcia disappearance case. The mother of three was 34 when she was last seen near downtown Longmont around 2:30 a.m. on March 18, 2018, at a bar celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day. Her body hasn’t ever been found but police believe she is dead.

Gutierrez-Garcia

Rita Gutierrez-Garcia (credit: CBS)

Police first named Figueroa as a suspect in July of 2018 and cited forensic evidence. Since then they have studied his cellphone data, video recordings, financial data, social media posts and at one point obtained a court-order for a wiretap inside a correctional facility.

Juan Jose Figueroa Jr.

Juan Jose Figueroa Jr. (credit: Boulder County)

Figueroa, 32, is currently serving time in a prison in Buena Vista for his conviction in a Longmont sex assault case in 2017.

Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said in a news conference outside the Boulder County Courthouse Friday that this is a positive “step that we’re taking in the march forward for justice for Rita.”

“As you might imagine, when we announced today that Juan Figueroa is being charged with kidnapping and murdering Rita, that it’s a good day for the family in terms of these charges being announced and this step being taken, but obviously a very sad and incredibly difficult day,” Dougherty said.

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Gutierrez-Garcia’s family members joined Dougherty at the news conference, minus her three sons who were intentionally kept away from the cameras. They have worked with Longmont police closely through the years in the effort to find out what happened to Gutierrez-Garcia. They also have made many appearances on CBS4 and other Colorado media outlets in their efforts to bring public awareness to the case and generate tips that might lead to an arrest.

“It’s because of the family that we’re here today,” Dougherty said.

From the start of the investigation, Dougherty said Longmont police treated the case with the suspicion that Gutierrez-Garcia didn’t go missing “of her own free will, but that she’d been abducted.”

“As the days and weeks passed and the search for Rita did not produce the results that we hoped for, we realized and concluded that she’s presumed deceased,” he said.

According to the grand jury indictment, Figueroa told a cellmate that he had strangled Guierrez-Garcia and buried her in a place that he never plans to reveal to anyone.

Jesse Sarles