WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KION) A shocking arrest was made out of Santa Cruz County of a Watsonville man accused of killing a teenage girl in Miami, Florida, back in 2004.
Watsonville police say the arrest happened Monday night in Santa Cruz. The suspect, 46-year-old Raul Mata, is awaiting extradition to Maimi-Dade County in Florida right now, facing charges of first degree murder.
Two neighbors in the Watsonville suburb where Mata apparently lives tell KION he was friendly, but mostly kept to himself. They say Mata hung out with his kids often and has two dogs and a very nice wife. They never expected he would be charged for a murder.
Another neighbor, who wanted to remain off-camera, tells KION he believes the murder charge is a total "travesty" and the Raul Mata he knows is the best of the best kind of guy.
But authorities in Miami say Mata's arrest is 16 years in the making. Advancements in forensic DNA technology helped investigators link Mata to the 2004 murder of 16-year-old Dilcia Mejia. Mejia is Mata's stepdaughter.
Miami-Dade Police found Mejia's body in the family's mobile home with a cut to her neck. Her death was ruled a homicide.
"She woke up to terror. Her precious life was taken then by her then-stepfather Raul Mata," said Freddy Ramirez, of the Miami-Dade Police.
"The biggest relief that our family has had its a huge burden lifted from our shoulders," said Trinidad Gonzalez, Mejia's cousin. "Glad Raul Mata could face consequences of his gruesome actions."
During the initial investigation, Mata was questioned and denied involvement. He and Mejia's mother eventually separated and Mata moved to Watsonville where he got remarried and had a child.
But Thursday, everything changed. Police say there is now physical and circumstantial evidence against Mata. Investigators say Mata and his stepdaughter had a strained relationship.
According to a Miami CBS affiliate, authorities told Mata they learned that a school counselor was about to tell Mejia'ls mother that he allegedly made inapporpriate advances toward her.
"She was just innocent…why would he do that?" said Gonzalez. "I'm just glad he was arrested."
We're also learning through arrest records that Mata is a nurse. Neighbors tell KION he worke at Watsonville Community Hospital. Detectives in Florida say a motive for the murder is not clear.
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The suspect, 46-year-old Raul Mata, was arrested on first degree murder with a deadly weapon charges with the help of the Watsonville Police Department. Watsonville police say he is an area resident and was arrested with the help of Santa Cruz police.
"An unsolved murder leaves a surviving family with an unending pain and fear that their loved ones will be forgotten. The charging of Raul Mata for the alleged 2004 murder of 16-year-old Dilcia Mejia should offer hope, not just for her family but for the families of all crime victims still yearning for justice," said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
"We were able to accomplish the goals in which the Miami-Dade Police Department set forth to us and together, we were able to assist them in their successful arrest of a suspect who was involved in such a heinous crime," said Watsonville Police Captain Anthony Magdayao.
The homicide happened in September 2004. Miami-Dade police were called to a home for a report of an unresponsive female. When they got there, the victim's stepfather, Mata, took them to Mejia's body. Investigators said she had lacerations on her neck, and her death was ruled a homicide.
According to the CBS affiliate in Miami, the arrest affidavit said investigators told Mata that they learned that a school counselor was about to tell Mejia's mother that he had made inappropriate advances toward her. It also said that Mata and Mejia had a strained relationship.
No arrests were made at the time, but Miami-Dade police said they continued to follow leads and eventually used DNA from the victim's body to identify Mata as the primary suspect. Forensic advancements also helped them to link physical and circumstantial evidence.
CBS4 reports that the arrest affidavit suggests that Mata's DNA was found on Mejia's fingernails. When DNA reportedly led investigators to identify Mata as the prime suspect, the affidavit said in May 2020 the investigators requested Mejia's fingernail clippings that were collected during her autopsy to be retested.
During the initial investigation, Mata was reportedly questioned and denied involvement in her death. He and Mejia's mother separated, and Mata moved to Watsonville, where he got remarried and had a child.
Mata was found in Watsonville and arrested. He will be extradited to Miami-Dade County.