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Man charged in 1998 killing of woman who was dumped in Laguna Beach

Man charged in 1998 killing of woman who was dumped in Laguna Beach
John Edward Gutierrez, right, has been arrested and charged in the 1998 slaying of Lillian DeVilla. (Laguna Beach Police Department)

A 46-year-old man was arrested and charged Wednesday in connection with the 1998 cold-case homicide of a woman whose body was found dumped under a bush in Laguna Beach.

John Edward Gutierrez of Aliso Viejo was charged with murder in the death of his 55-year-old mother-in-law, Lillian DeVilla, according to the Orange County district attorney's office.

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Gutierrez, who works in business development for an Anaheim landscaping firm, was arrested by Laguna Beach police around 7 a.m. outside a gym, the Coastline Pilot reported.

DeVilla's body was found Feb. 4, 1998, after she went missing from her Aliso Viejo home, authorities said. Two public works employees found her body with a bag tied around the head under a large bush near 20286 Laguna Canyon Road.

Authorities believe DeVilla was knocked unconscious by a blunt object and asphyxiated Jan. 29 inside her home. Her corpse was then transported was dumped five miles away, authorities said.

Gutierrez and his wife, who were living with DeVilla at the time, reported her missing. Her car had been left parked outside the apartment and her purse and keys were inside the home, authorities said.

During the investigation, Gutierrez was a suspect but the Orange County coroner's office placed the time of DeVilla's death as being 12 to 24 hours before her body was found. That finding excluded Gutierrez, who was stationed at the El Toro Marine Base, according to authorities.

But when police investigators reopened the cold case in 2009 with county prosecutors, they uncovered evidence suggesting that the original estimated time of death was inaccurate.

That evidence, combined with accounts obtained from several witnesses not previously interviewed, led prosecutors to charge Gutierrez with murder, police said.

A possible motive for the killing was not released.

Gutierrez was expected to appear in court later this week.

Lopez writes for Times Community News. She can be reached at alicia.lopez@latimes.com or on Twitter at @ALopezCityEd.

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