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Marine Arrested in Arizona, Suspect in New Year’s Murder of Texas Co-Ed

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Eric Jamal Johnson, 20, on Tuesday at a Yuma, Arizona military base. Johnson, an active duty U.S. Marine, is accused of the murder of a North Texas college co-ed in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day.

The victim, Sara Mutchlechner, 20, was the designated driver for three fellow students following a New Year’s Eve party in Denton, Texas. She was shot in the head, purportedly by Johnson, then lost control of the vehicle and hit another car before crashing into a telephone pole. Mutchlechner was rushed to an area hospital where, later, the University of North Texas junior was pronounced dead.

Johnson, stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, remains in custody on a murder warrant issued by the Denton Police Department. The Denton Record-Chronicle reported Johnson is a corporal, as assigned to the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1.

Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command spokesman in California, Capt. Justin Smith, told KXAS 5 (NBC) that Johnson joined the Marine Corps in August, 2013 and serves as an administrative specialist. He has never been deployed.

Late Tuesday, the Denton Police Department released Johnson’s mugshot acquired from the Yuma Sheriff’s Office after his arrest.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Denton police spokesman Shane Kizer told reporters that Mutschlechner and her three passengers were in a four-door Hyundai sedan when a gray Honda Pilot SUV with five or six African American males pulled up alongside them after the New Year’s Eve party. Kizer said initially passengers in the two vehicles spoke amicably but the conversation turned argumentative and even offensive when the males made remarks that were reportedly sexual in nature and “very derogatory.”

Although Kizer did not disclose the specific comments, the arrest affidavit stated that the males in the SUV told Mutschlechner and another female in the sedan they wanted to “F*ck them.” The other female responded that she did not appreciate the comments and a male in the backseat told them he would “Beat his ass.” The driver of the SUV, identified as Johnson, stated “I’ll shoot your ass,” according to the affidavit, then displayed a black semi-automatic handgun. The SUV sped away after the shooting.

Kizer said authorities tracked down the suspect based on witness interviews, social media posts, and through his street name “Santana Sage,” noted in the affidavit. Earlier Tuesday, Denton police tweeted that Johnson was seen in the vehicle with a handgun before the fatal shooting.

At the press conference, Kizer did not know if Johnson was arraigned in Arizona or when he would be extradited to Texas. He added that Johnson had familial ties to the North Texas area. The investigation remains ongoing and Kizer said there could be more arrests. He also told reporters that investigators are still looking for the murder weapon, although they have the SUV in their custody.

The Denton County Police spokesman asked the public for their patience during the investigation to ensure they arrest the right persons.

Over the weekend, several hundred people held a candlelight vigil to honor Mutchlechner. At the press conference, Kizer commented, “This is a close-knit community. A lot of public outrage has come from this and even though as police officers we try and distance ourselves from that, it’s hard to step away from something that is this tragic.”

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.

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