Marine arrested in UNT student's murder

Eric Jamal Johnson, 20, was taken into custody after being located in Yuma, Arizona by the U.S. Marshal Service Tuesday morning.

DENTON – An arrest has been made in connection with the New Year's Day murder of Sara Mutschlechner, a student at the University of North Texas.

Eric Jamal Johnson, 20, was taken into custody after being located in Yuma, Arizona by the U.S. Marshals Service Tuesday morning after a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Denton Police Department. Johnson is a Marine and was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, according to Marine Corps Public Affairs Officer Capt. Justin Smith.

Johnson was arrested at the base at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday.

 Denton Police said Wednesday that they believe Johnson was the shooter, and that four others were in his SUV when he pulled the trigger. Police are treating the four others as persons of interest, and are working to interview them, said Denton Police spokesman Officer Shane Kizer.

Denton police detectives were in Arizona Wednesday to interview Johnson. 

The want to extradite him to Denton County, which could take several days to several weeks, depending on whether Johnson waives extradition. 

Authorities have searched Johnson's SUV, but wouldn't go into detail on what they found. They are still searching for the murder weapon. 

Mutschlechner, 20, was the designated driver for her three friends after a New Year's Eve party when she was shot in the head while driving near the intersection of Elm Street and University Drive in Denton.

According to Officer Kizer, the suspect's vehicle — a silver Honda Pilot — pulled up next to Mutschlechner's vehicle around 2 a.m. on New Year's Day. Two of the occupants of the Honda were at the party that Mutschlechner and her friends had attended, but authorities are not aware of any interaction between the two groups at that event.

Kizer said some of the occupants of the suspect's vehicle began talking with the occupants of Mutschlechner's vehicle, and it was amicable until the men in the suspect's vehicle began making derogatory comments towards the women in the victim's vehicle.

That led to heated words being exchanged between the groups before someone in the suspect's SUV fired two shots at the other vehicle.

Mutschlechner was struck in the head by one of the shots and lost control of the vehicle, eventually crashing into an electric pole. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

A Marine Corps spokesman said Johnson was on regularly-scheduled leave for the holidays. He has family in Fort Worth, though News 8 has been unable to reach them.

Johnson remains active duty, but that could change as the investigation continues, said Marine Corps Public Affairs Officer Capt. Justin E. Smith.

A person who does not want to be identified has seen the surveillance video caught by cameras at Crossroads Bar.

"They were flying past. They came through that light fast," the person told News 8. "As soon as the SUV passes the car, [Mutschlechner] loses control."

We caught up with Arian Helm, who has known Johnson since elementary school.

"'He couldn't have done this...' that was my first reaction," he said. "I'm just shocked. I'm speechless, you know?"

Officer Kizer said authorities began pursuing Johnson based off of witness interviews and social media information. They were able to track down the suspect beginning with his street name, "Santana Sage." He has been in the Marines since August of 2013.

Several hundred people held a candlelight vigil over the weekend to honor Sara Mutschlechner.



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