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Suspect Wanted in 1984 Santa Barbara Homicide Arrested in Mexico After 27 Years on the Run

Local detectives help track down Miguel Godoy Morales, who fled after a bar brawl in which a man was fatally stabbed four times

Twenty-seven years after being accused of stabbing a Santa Barbara man to death in a bar brawl, Miguel Godoy Morales has been arrested in Mexico, where he has been living since the alleged homicide.

Antonio Pineda, 36, was fatally stabbed in the 500 block of Olive Street on May 27, 1984, and Morales fled the country to avoid arrest, according to the Santa Barbara Police Department.

The brawl started in a nearby bar, apparently over a woman, and moved outside, where Morales allegedly stabbed Pineda four times, including once in the heart, Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez said at a news conference Wednesday.

Morales, who is 51 or 52 now according to different records, has since evaded authorities. Until now, that is.

Local detectives worked closely with the Department of Justice and Mexico’s Procuraduria General de La Republica to locate Morales, reauthorize all of the witness statement and get an arrest warrant. The 2004 warrant gave Mexican authorities the right to arrest and prosecute Morales.

Authorities worked together to pinpoint a specific location — Tijuana — and conducted heavy surveillance of his records, home, work and even where he shopped. It was continuous and covert, and Sanchez said Morales never caught wind or skipped town. He said Morales felt so safe that he never even changed his name or driver’s license information.

On Oct. 12, two federal agents from the Baja California Norte Policia Estatal Preventiva drove around near his last known address and saw him working on a car in a commercial parking lot. They ran the license plates and connected it to him, and arrested him on an unrelated domestic violence warrant.

Once he was in custody and the Santa Barbara Police Department “got its ducks in order,” Sanchez said, Morales was flown to Mexico City and now is being held in a detention facility to await trial.

“Then they told him, by the way, you’re here for the murder,” Sanchez said. “I heard he was extremely shocked. After 27 years, he thought he got away with it.”

Santa Barbara Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, left, and Police Chief Cam Sanchez discuss the case during a news conference Wednesday.
Santa Barbara Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, left, and Police Chief Cam Sanchez discuss the case during a news conference Wednesday. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

The common-law wife of Pineda, the victim, was notified of Morales’ arrest and put the Police Department in touch with other family members. It brought her closure, but also brought back a lot of difficult memories of that time, Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte said. He said she had a rough few days and still loves Pineda like she did in 1984.

Since Morales is a Mexican citizen, he will be held, tried and, if convicted, serve the 30-to-60-year sentence in a prison there. Mexico does not have a death penalty and has a 45-year statute of limitations for murder, so if Morales had evaded police for 18 more years, he couldn’t have been arrested even if he had been found.

Sanchez and Duarte praised the work of Santa Barbara detectives who have worked on the case for a long time, and the growing relationship with the Procuraduria General de La Republica office in Los Angeles.

Sanchez said he and others periodically go there and “grease the skids a little bit” since personal visits emphasize the importance of Santa Barbara police cases and help “move them up the line.”

The department has 21 other cold case murders, and one-third of them have no known suspects. Of the known suspects, at least five are in Mexico, so the relationship is an important one, Sanchez said.

He said he often receives letters and phone calls from the families of cold case murder victims, and one family has sent him a Christmas card every year he has worked with the Santa Barbara Police Department — that’s 11 to date — asking for the ultimate gift: Catch the person who did it.

“Let me tell you,” Sanchez said, “the ones you don’t get to solve, you don’t forget.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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