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Suspect in California girl's "brutal" 1990 murder extradited back to U.S. to face charges

SALINAS, Calif. -- A suspect in a California girl's 1990 rape and murder has been extradited from Mexico back to the U.S. to face charges. Arsenio "Archie" Pacheco Leyva faced a Monterey County judge Monday in the death of 14-year-old Christy Sue Piña, who was raped, stabbed and strangled before her body was dumped in an artichoke field outside of Castroville.

  Arsenio "Archie" Pacheco Leyva in a Monterey court May 7, 2018 KION

Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal called the killing a "senseless, brutal murder."

Tips and a DNA match first pointed to Leyva as a suspect the same year as the murder, Bernal said, but DNA technology was still in its infancy and the match wasn't strong enough to secure a conviction. A stronger DNA match more conclusively identified Leyva as the suspect in 1996, but investigators couldn't track him down.

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.

Bernal said the wide-ranging investigation is "the most labor-intensive operation" his office has conducted, and his investigators along with the FBI, DOJ, the Monterey County District Attorney's Office, Salinas police and the Mexican government have logged thousands of hours on the case.

He thanked the girl's father, John Pina, who has helped to keep the case in the public eye.

John Bennett, the special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco office, said he hoped the extradition would help bring her family closure.

"This case demonstrates that it doesn't matter if it takes us years, in this case even decades, we will not forget the heinous crimes that have been committed," Bennett said. "We will find the criminals no matter where they hide and we will bring them to justice."

He is charged with attempted kidnapping, rape and murder.  His bail was set at $5 million, reports KSBW.