Tempe police arrested a 20-year-old man Tuesday night in connection with the May murder of student Kyleigh Sousa.
Sousa, 21, was dragged by a car in an attempted robbery of her purse in an IHOP parking lot just south of the Tempe campus on May 26. She later died from her injuries.
Joseluis Marquez, 20, was arrested around 7 p.m. Tuesday, and faces one charge of first-degree murder in Sousa’s death, police announced at a Wednesday press conference.
Marquez is accused of attempting to steal Sousa’s purse while he was behind the wheel of a 2008 gold Dodge Charger, a car that came from a rental service in the Los Angeles County area, police said.
Sousa was dragged for several feet until she fell to the ground, and the car fled the scene. She was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital.
Newly elected Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said at the press conference that although it was hard to tell whether the first-degree murder charge would stand, he believed it was appropriate for the case.
“We don’t file cases looking for the most serious charge,” he said. “Can a first-degree murder charge be prosecuted? That’s the next step.”
Tempe Police Cmdr. Kim Hale, the commander of investigations for the department, said a photo-radar picture of Marquez in the vehicle taken on May 10, before Sousa’s death, helped police identify him as a suspect.
The photo, however, was not the only development in the case since Sousa’s death in May.
In June, Tempe police released a sketch of the man. In July, a new clue popped up — a friend’s driver’s license that had been in Sousa’s purse was placed inside a U.S. Postal Service mailbox, police said. It’s unclear if that incident is connected to Tuesday's arrest.
Sousa’s death was also picked up by John Walsh’s “America’s Most Wanted,” where viewers were asked to help capture the man dubbed the “Unknown Kyleigh Sousa Killer.”
Hale said the first police contact with Marquez was on Nov. 16, when he provided police with a story that later proved to be false.
Authorities would not elaborate on how they first contacted Marquez.
Investigators located the vehicle police believe was used in the crime on Nov. 30, and on Tuesday, members of the Tempe Police Department, Mesa Police Department and U.S. Marshals Service arrested Marquez on the 2600 block of West Butler Drive in Phoenix, Hale said.
“This has not been a rush to judgment at all,” Hale said.
Hale said the other occupants of the vehicle had been identified, but their names have not yet been released.
According to a court document, the other occupants of the vehicle identified Marquez as the driver and the person who grabbed Kyleigh’s purse.
Montgomery said the circumstances in which the other occupants were involved would have to be evaluated to decide what, if any, charges would be brought against them.
“I have a mix of emotions to be honest,” Kyleigh’s brother Bernie Sousa said in a phone interview. Bernie and the rest of Kyleigh’s family live in Point Pleasant, NJ.
“The job’s not done. I want every single person in that car held responsible,” he said.
Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff said more than 500 tips were received by the department, and investigators worked “tirelessly, 24/7 pursuing tips.”
Ryff acknowledged a lot of outcry had come from the community over Sousa’s death, but said he was confident police arrested the right man.
“Our goal is to gather the facts, information and the truth … and make an arrest for the people we believe are responsible for Kyleigh’s death,” he said. “Last night, our investigation led us to what we were ultimately looking for.”
Marquez has previously been arrested on suspicion of theft in 2009 and shoplifting in 2004. Police said the 20-year-old had no known address.
In a written statement released by Bernie Sousa on behalf of the Sousa family, he thanked the community and police for their work and support since Kyleigh’s death.
“We took comfort in knowing there were good people in Arizona trying to do right by our family,” he said.
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