(Watsonville Police Chief David Honda, Santa Cruz District Attorney Jeff Rosell (left) and FBI special agent John Bennett announce the arrest of Mario Lozano from a 2004 murder on Airport Boulevard in Watsonville. Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)
WATSONVILLE — A Watsonville man who fled to Mexico after allegedly stabbing a teenager to death 14 years ago is in custody, after a lengthy extradition process that involved local and federal law enforcement officials.
Mario Albert Lozano, 32, was arrested in Mexicali, Mexico in February. He was taken into custody Wednesday by Watsonville Police officers at San Jose International Airport.
Lozano was charged with first-degree murder. He was booked into Santa Cruz County Jail in lieu of $5 million bail.
Lozano faces life in prison if convicted.
He could also face federal charges for fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.
Investigators say that Lozano stabbed Isaac Guzman, 17, multiple times on Dec. 3, 2004, in the back, arms and head as he waited for his father to pick him up from school.
The attack occurred in front of Hector’s Bakery, which at the time was located on the 300 block of Airport Boulevard.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell said the incident was “likely” gang-related. Police have said that both Lozano and Guzman had gang ties.
In a series of interviews in October 2017 for the television show “The Hunt With John Walsh,” Guzman’s relatives said that Lozano was dating Guzman’s cousin, and physically abusing her.
That began a feud between the two that culminated with the stabbing, the relatives said.
“Isaac was always protecting his family,” said Guzman’s aunt Sally Magaña for the television segment.
Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said that investigators tracked down Lozano with the help of tips sent to the department’s social media system about two years ago.
WPD investigators then worked with the FBI and Santa Cruz County investigators to track Lozano down where he was living in Mexico.
Rosell praised the FBI, which he said has worked with WPD several times in the past on similar cases.
“… Not only in this case but in over a half-dozen other cases in this community have been able to bring back murder suspects who have gone to Mexico thinking they are safe and that the long arm of the law would not reach them,” Rosell said.
Complicating the extradition process was the fact that Lozano is not a U.S. citizen, said FBI agent John Bennett, whose San Francisco office helped investigate the case.
Officials worked with the Mexican government and police department, in addition to U.S. state and federal authorities, he said.
“Isaac was only a teenager when he was attacked leaving school,” Bennett said. “The brazen attack not only left a family without a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew. But it also left the community fearful.”
After Lozano fled to Mexico, the FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Lozano’s mother was later prosecuted for helping him flee.
“Despite the passage of time, justice is now served, and this fugitive will pay for his crimes,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the case should serve as a message to others.
“We never forget the victims of crimes or our duty to protect our communities,” he said.
The case gained national attention, appearing on the television show “America’s Most Wanted” in 2008.
Isaac Guzman’s mother Violet Guzman described her son as a good person who was concerned about her heart condition and checked on her every day before he went to school, and who took care of his siblings.
Guzman said the announcement came as cold comfort to her.
“It brings closure, but at the same time it does not bring my son back,” she said. “I miss him very much, and I still can’t believe this is real. I never will. It’s not the same without my son.”
Still, the announcement after 14 years did bring some measure of relief, Guzman said.
“I’ve thought about it every day, but I never thought it would come true,” she said.