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Rita Gutierrez-Garcia's Family Sees Justice Years After The Young Mother's Disappearance, Murder

BOULDER, Colo. (CBS4) - For years, the family of Rita Gutierrez-Garcia has been left with questions about the night she disappeared, St. Patrick's day 2018.

LONGMONT MISSING WOMAN 10 PKG.transfer_frame_1087
(credit: CBS)

"I know where Rita is, I know it's just her body we were missing," her mother Diane Romero said.

During that time, they made plea after plea for anyone with information to come forward, but they never lost faith.

"Rita will be victorious," her sister Jessica Reyes-Romero said outside the Boulder County Justice Center in 2021.

Almost a year to the day since that statement Reyes returned to that same place outside the courtroom, this time with their questions answered.

"This is Rita's victory day we always knew we would bring her home and bring her justice," she said.

Despite having identified Juan Figueroa as a suspect in Rita's disappearance early on, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty says building a case without a body took time.

"We did not have evidence of how she died where she was or any evidence pointing to her killer," he said.

Figueroa was indicted by a grand jury and ultimately reached a deal with the prosecutor to not only confess to the murder but reveal the location of Rita's body. In exchange, he was given an agreed-upon sentence of nearly 50 years in prison.

Juan Figueroa Jr.
(credit: CBS)

A sentence a Boulder judge agreed to on Friday afternoon.

"I was insane, I didn't know how to hold my emotions. I punched her, I choked her, I dragged her to my car, and I strangled her, I killed her," Figueroa told the courtroom.

Rita's family was in the courtroom and listening to that confession as well, they reacted outside the courtroom.

"His actions are exposed... he is exposed," Reyes said.

And while they will finally be able to lay Rita to rest, they know life without her will never be the same.

"We will never be completely healed, her sons will never be healed, their mother is still missing but as I said in court, they will never have that unanswered question," Romero said.

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Rita Gutierrez-Garcia (credit: CBS)

Figueroa was arrested just 10 days after Rita disappeared for the sexual assault and attempted murder of another woman. He is currently serving a 93-year to life sentence for that crime. Friday's sentence of 48 years for Rita's murder and 12 years for her kidnapping will run concurrently with the one Figueroa is currently serving.

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