U.S. Marine arrested for murdering UNT student Sara Mutschlechner
DENTON, Texas - U.S. Marshals have arrested an active U.S. Marine for the shooting death of a UNT student on New Year’s Eve.
Eric Jamal Johnson, 20, was taken into custody Tuesday morning in Yuma, Arizona. The U.S. Marines confirmed he is an administration specialist who was reporting for work at the Yuma Air Station when he was arrested on Tuesday.
The victim, 20-year-old Sara Mutschlechner, was driving friends home from a New Year’s Eve party when passengers in her car exchanged words with five or six young men in an SUV.
Denton Police Department spokesman Shane Kizer described the exchange as friendly at first. But then he said the men in the SUV started making lewd and inappropriate comments directed toward Mutschlechner and her friend.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, a witness said Johnson displayed a handgun and threated to shoot. Shortly afterward, Johnson opened fire on the car and Mutschlechner was struck in the head, causing her to crash into a utility pole.
Kizer said the witnesses in Mutschlechner car recognized some of the men in the SUV from the party. They were able to provide police with descriptions of the suspects.
Investigators talked to several people who attended the party and were able to use photos and posts on social media to come up with the street names of several people believed to be in the SUV.
The affidavit said investigators found photos from the night of the party showing Johnson, who goes by “Santana Sage.” He was wearing clothes that matched the suspect’s description and driving an SUV similar to the one caught on surveillance video near the crime scene.
Additional photos on social media gave investigators the license plate number for Johnson’s 2007 Honda Pilot. From there they were able to track him down.
Police say at least two of the young men in Johnson's SUV were at a party where Mutschlechner had been that night - featuring Daytona Boyz. Video of the evening performance was posted on Twitter.
Authorities were at Johnson's Fort Worth home on Tuesday before relatives went to a Marine recruiting office. Investigators have talked to and still want to talk to several other persons of interest.
Mutschlechner was a junior at UNT where she studied radio, television and film. She was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
Her parents took her off life support after donating her organs. They said they wanted to focus on her legacy despite her senseless and tragic death.