Marine corporal arrested in killing of UNT student on New Year’s Day

The car Sara Mutschlechner was driving crashed into telephone pole after shooting on New Year’s Day
The car Sara Mutschlechner was driving crashed into telephone pole after shooting on New Year’s Day Handout photo

A 20-year-old Marine corporal was arrested Tuesday in Arizona in the shooting death of a University of North Texas student on New Year’s Day, Denton police said.

Cpl. Eric Jamal Johnson was taken into custody about 6:30 a.m. by the U.S. marshals outside the gate of the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Yuma, Ariz., a statement from the U.S. Marine Corps said.

Johnson has an Arizona address as well as a Texas ID and a Fort Worth address, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Sara Mutschlechner, 20, was shot once in the head about 2 a.m. New Year’s Day while she was driving a car with three passengers in the 1700 block of North Elm Street in Denton. They had been at a New Year’s Eve party, police said.

Witnesses said the gunman was the driver of a dark-color SUV with five or six men inside that pulled up beside the sedan.

A man with the Twitter handle Santana Sage — later identified as Johnson — was identified by witnesses as the SUV driver, according to the affidavit

Before the shooting — and as the two vehicles were stopped at the intersection of North Elm and University Drive — the men in the SUV made derogatory comments of a sexual nature toward women in Mutschlechner’s car, the affidavit said. A man in Mutschlechner’s car threatened to fight the men in the SUV and that’s when the driver of the SUV threatened the occupants of Mutschlechner’s car with a black semiautomatic handgun, witnesses told investigators.

A clerk at a nearby gas station, who was standing outside, heard two shots and saw a dark-color SUV speed away as Mutschlechner’s car crashed into another vehicle and then a telephone pole, the affidavit said.

Police closed in on the suspect by locating video surveillance footage from the gas station and several other businesses, as well as tracing posts made on social media sites, Denton police spokesman Shane Kizer said.

Police have not recovered the handgun, Kizer said.

Witnesses from Mutschlechner’s car, who were still at the scene when a detective arrived, said the gunshots came from the driver’s seat, the affidavit said.

During the investigation, a detective received numerous photos, links to video clips from the party and Twitter profiles of men who were at the party, and police identified several “persons of interst,” Kizer said.

“It’s possible there may be more arrests in this case,” Kizer said.

And after being shown photos of two of the suspects gathered from social media, the witnesses were positive that the suspects were the same people they saw at the party and in the SUV, the affidavit said.

The Marine Corps said Johnson is assigned to the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1. Capt. Justin Smith, a spokesman for the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command in California, told The Associated Press that Johnson joined the Marines in August 2013. He said Johnson is an administrative specialist and has never been deployed.

This includes material from The Associated Press.