PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — Family members of a man shot and killed near Decatur in 1995 said their family has carried the trauma of his death for years while the shooter lived free in Mexico.

“My father’s death was the worst thing that could have happened to us,” a statement from Jose Cruz Armijo-Arreguin’s oldest daughter Sandra Armijo, read to the court by her daughter, said. “It left my mother to take care of four children at the time all by herself. We came to this country for a better life with her parents and shortly after, (Juan Solis-Reyna) took our father from us. … For many years, we lived in fear and with many unanswered questions. Why did he do it? Why did he take our father’s life?”

Solis-Reyna was captured last year and sentenced Monday to 25 to 50 years in prison with an additional two-year sentence for a weapons charge. He must also pay $2,957.03 in restitution.

In a statement read by a victim advocate, Armijo-Arreguin’s wife Amada said she struggled to raise their children alone after his death.

“I have struggled emotionally and mentally as my soulmate was ripped away before his time,” the statement said in part.

A 1990s photo of Jose Cruz Armijo-Arreguin and his daughters. (Courtesy)
A 1990s photo of Jose Cruz Armijo-Arreguin and his daughters. (Courtesy)

Armijo-Arreguin was recalled as a loving husband and father. His children said the pain of his death and anger fear because his killer remained free has stayed with them.

“This affected me mentally and emotionally for many decades, not actually knowing what happened to my father, hearing multiple different stories growing up,” Anna Armijo, Armijo-Arreguin’s youngest daughter, told the court. “I would hear stories of my family in Mexico spotting Juan Solis-Reya living his life to the fullest and always wondering why no one was doing anything about it.”

On April 24, 1995, around 6:30 a.m., police got a call from a payphone in Lawton. The caller said there had been a murder. She led deputies to the victim’s body, which had been dumped in the parking lot of a vineyard on 92nd Avenue on 36th Street in Decatur Township. Prosecutors said Solis-Reyna, who had been drinking, shot Armijo-Arreguini inside a van. The 911 caller was the driver.

Solis-Reyna, then 25, and Armijo-Arreguin, 30, were acquaintances who were working as migrant workers at the time.

Deputies quickly identified Solis-Reyna as their suspect but said he took off. The car he was driving was found dumped along I-55 in Missouri a few days later.

Investigators reopened the cold case in February 2019. They worked with the FBI to track Solis-Reyna to Monterey, Mexico, about 100 miles from the Texas border, where Sheriff Dan Abbott said he had started a family with children. He said it looked like Solis-Reyna thought he had gotten away with murder.

In July of this year, a jury found Solis-Reyna guilty of second-degree murder and felony firearm.

Solis-Reyna’s attorney Richard Catalino spoke on his behalf in court Monday, saying his client had “consistently expressed great remorse for the events of that day.” The attorney said his client told him he always expected he would have to face the consequences.

“Mr Solis-Reyna told me he recognizes nothing he says and nothing he can do can bring back the life of (Armijo-Arreguin),” Catalino said. “He regrets the death of his friend. He regrets and feels feels deeply remorseful for the consequences it has had on Mr. Armijo’s family for all these years.”

He said Solis-Reyna took responsibility for his actions.

But Van Buren County Assistant Prosecutor Jay Blair said that a truly remorseful man would have turned himself in. Instead, he said, Solis-Reyna fled.

“Mr. Solis was allowed to run free, hiding in Mexico, avoiding justice, avoiding accountability for his actions, living out arguably the best parts of his life while the Cruz family was left here in Michigan, suffering as a result of his actions,” Blair said.

“He ‘hopes that this moment doesn’t define his life,'” Blair continued, referencing statements by Catalino on behalf of his client. “It should define his life because it has defined the lives of the Cruz family. It has upended their lives, it has ruined their lives, and for these last 27 years, they have been denied justice, until now.”

Van Buren County Judge Kathleen Brickley agreed that Solis-Reyna’s run from the law was “cowardly.”

“Had you not been caught, you would never face consequences for your actions,” she told him in handing down his sentence. “That’s very clear. Had you not been caught, your victim’s family would still not know what happened and they would still be facing all the trauma that they talked about today.”