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Suspect Arrested For New Year's Shooting Death Of UNT Student

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DENTON (CBSDFW.COM) - Police have arrested one person they say is involved in the shooting and killing of University of North Texas student Sara Mutschlechner on New Year's Day.

Denton Police Department investigators first obtained a warrant for Eric Jamal Johnson. He was located in Yuma, Arizona and arrested after the warrant was served by the U.S. Marshals Service Tuesday morning. Johnson is was arrested on a Murder warrant.

There have been reports that the 20-year-old Johnson is a member of a branch of the U.S. Military. At an afternoon press conference Denton police Officer Shane Kizer confirmed that Johnson has some ties to a military branch. "It's my understanding that in conjunction with military service personnel at a base there [Arizona] that he was taken into custody. What base that is we're not aware of at this time."

In addition to Johnson being identified by witnesses that police say were in the vehicle with him at the time of the shooting, Kizer said there was other evidence that led them to Johnson. "What we do know is that he was seen with a handgun in the vehicle right before the time that the shots were fired from the vehicle."

U.S. Marshal Matt Goodwin said, "He was taken into custody without incident and did not resist arrest."

Mutschlechner, a University of North Texas student, was shot while driving a car from a New Year's Eve party in Denton. Four people were in the car when a dark-colored SUV, with several people inside, allegedly approached. The occupants of both exchanged words and at some point an argument began. Kizer wouldn't be specific but said the comments made to Mutschlechner and her friends were disrespectful. "I don't think it would be appropriate to state those [exact comments] right now, but they were very derogatory in nature… of a sexual nature."

After the comments were made, as both vehicles started to drive away, someone in the SUV opened fire shooting the car Mutschlechner was driving several times. Mutschlechner's vehicle slammed into another car before crashing into an electrical pole.

Denton shooting crash
Denton shooting of UNT student crash (Denton Police)

A bullet hit the 20-year-old in the head. She was taken to Denton Regional Medical Center, but died later after being taken off life support. Police were told Mutschlechner was behind the wheel because she was the designated driver and had not been drinking.

Witnesses told police that five or six African American males were inside the SUV at the time of the shooting, and at least two of those men attended the same New Year's Eve party that Mutschlechner and her friends had.
Denton police say several witnesses, allegedly in the SUV with Johnson, have been helpful in the murder investigation. Kiser explained that, "We do actually have a couple of people that we're talking to that were in that [suspect] vehicle, [but] again at this time they're just considered person's of interest and witnesses."
Johnson is being held in Arizona and Kizer said he wasn't sure how long it would take to get him back to Texas. "There is a process of extradition. If he doesn't wave extradition there would have to be adhering I would assume. How long that might take -- it could be several days or several weeks."
A candlelight vigil for Mutschlechner was held this past weekend on the UNT campus. Hundreds of people stood outside the Greek Life Center to pay tribute to the young woman. A UNT flag will fly at half-staff for seven days to honor Sara's time at the university.
Speaking about Mutschlechner, the case and the citizens of Denton Kizer said, "This is a close-knit community. A lot of public outrage has come from this and even though as police officers we try and distance ourselves from that it's hard to step away from something that is this tragic."

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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