SALINAS (KPIX 5) — Persistence paid off in a decades-old cold case in Monterey County Monday as the suspect in the vicious 1990 murder of 14-year-old Christy Sue Piña at last appeared in a Salinas courtroom.
The long road to justice for the family of the slain teen even caught the attention of the White House.
It was the news John Piña thought he would never hear 28 years after his daughter Christy was raped, murdered and dumped in a Monterey County artichoke field: a suspect is now in custody.
“28 years. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” said Piña. “I said that many times. I got discouraged. I just gave up.”
The man in question, Arsenio “Archie” Pacheco Leyva, appeared in court Monday. Leyva was identified as the suspect through DNA back in 1996.
But Leyva had vanished. When he was finally found in 2015, he had returned to Mexico.
“This case proves that it doesn’t matter if it takes years or even decades. We will find the criminals and bring them to justice,” said FBI Special Agent John Bennett.
Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal called the killing a “senseless, brutal murder.”
An arrest warrant was issued for Leyva in 2007 when officials got a tip that he was in Mexico, but Bernal said he continued to evade authorities. Leyva was eventually arrested in Mexico in 2015 but has fought extradition, but only recently lost his court battle.
Leyva was returned to the U.S. May 3, Bernal said.
Circumstances landed the case squarely in the Trump administration’s fight against and illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders highlighted the search for Leyva back in June of last year.
“25 years later, he was finally located in his native Mexico, where he fled after murdering Christy,” Huckabee Sanders said.
Piña has been vocal about his gratitude towards the Trump administration for keeping the case in the public eye.
“Sarah Huckabee did a story about Christy,” said Piña. “I was at the signing of Kate’s law. I was at the table, and I go to talk about Christy.”
While Piña credits President Trump with bringing attention to his daughter’s case, he saved the real praise for the chief investigator who years ago promised justice for his daughter.
And upon that promise, he made one request of authorities: “Don’t call me, until you’ve got him.”
Investigators respected that request.
“I got a call Thursday night, and they told me, ‘We just locked him up,'” said Piña.
The end of a four-year extradition fight with Mexico to bring Leyva into custody will allow the wheels of justice to lurch forward nearly three decades after Christy’s death.
The opportunity for closure so many years after losing his daughter left Piña with a message for the families of other victims.
“Gotta say, for all the victims of violent crimes. We can’t give up hope. There’s hope. Just don’t give up,” said Piña.