Sixteen years after Francisca Perea-Dominguez was stabbed to death in her home, a toothbrush left in her bathroom has led police to charge a housemate long suspected of the murder.
Salvador Hernandez-Morales, 45, was charged on Monday with first-degree murder and sexual assault in connection with the 2006 murder of Perea-Dominguez, who was 42 when she was killed.
Concerned friends discovered Perea-Dominguez’s body inside her Aurora home at 12612 East Kansas Drive on July 1, 2006. She had been stabbed once in the stomach and sexually assaulted, according to a 32-page affidavit filed against Hernandez-Morales.
The investigation quickly focused on Perea-Dominguez’s roommate. A neighbor told police she heard banging and what sounded like a struggle in the apartment at the time of the murder. She then saw Perea-Dominguez’s roommate – an unknown Hispanic man – leave the apartment in a hurry, according to the affidavit. The man drove a white Ford Explorer and often wore a white cowboy hat, multiple witnesses said.
Investigators at the time found phone records belonging to Hernandez-Morales under a couch cushion, and he was quickly identified as a suspect in the murder. He was driving a white Ford Explorer, which police found and confiscated the day after the homicide.
A search of the car revealed a white cowboy hat, photos of Perea-Dominguez and official documents for Hernandez-Morales, who was originally from Mexico but legally in the United States at the time.
Yet no charges were filed against Hernandez-Morales, who was not the registered owner of the white Ford Explorer. He did not report for work after the murder and investigators believe he left the country and fled to Mexico.
The case went cold until last year, when detectives submitted a blue toothbrush found in Perea-Dominguez’s bathroom for DNA testing, according to the affidavit. Investigators found that DNA from the toothbrush matched DNA found in semen collected after Perea-Dominguez’s sexual assault.
Investigators then tested Hernandez-Morales’ DNA against that sample and found it likely matched, according to the affidavit. Two other potential suspects were ruled out by DNA analysis.
Hernandez-Morales is believed to be currently in Mexico, and local authorities will seek to extradite him and return him to the United States to face charges, Deputy Chief District Attorney Chris Wilcox said Wednesday.
“We’ll work through that process and get it back to Colorado for justice,” Wilcox said.
Hernandez-Morales was caught trying to return to the United States illegally in 2009 and was deported – but there was no warrant for his arrest at the time, so he was not detained.
At a news conference on Wednesday, authorities said early police work on the case, advances in DNA testing technology and a more recent dedicated effort to take on and re-examine cold cases had led to the charges against Hernandez-Morales.
“The roommate was the person of interest from the start,” Det. said Jason McDonald. “It was about confirming that he was indeed the perpetrator and it was about DNA evidence, things that still needed to be tested and identifying those things.”