YUBA CITY, Calif. — Yuba City police say they've caught their man in a cold case homicide after 23 years, but for Sonia Dueñas, it's not quite time to rest easy.
Her sister, Blanca Dueñas, was killed back in 1999. Police say Blanca's husband, Francisco Arellano, then evaded law enforcement by fleeing to Mexico. On Nov. 19, 2022, police announced his extradition to Sutter County.
"I think my entire family, we're just in disbelief that the day has finally come,” said Dueñas.
Duenas and her family still talk about Blanca in the present tense. For Dueñas, her sister is with her whenever she hears a song by the Bee Gees or sees New York, a place her sister longed to visit.
“She's still with us. She's just, her body isn’t here with us... a song will trigger a moment of our lives, something she used to say or something she used to do, something funny that happened in the family gatherings,” said Dueñas.
Blanca was a lover of music, often playing and practicing at home while they were growing up together. She listened to the Bee Gees as a teenager and had a natural skill for designs and sewing, said Dueñas.
"She had the ability to go to New York and be a fashion designer. She was just amazing at it, you know? And again, nobody taught her. It was a skill that God had given her,” said Dueñas.
Blanca had hopes and ambitions, but they wouldn't all be realized.
"She had all these dreams, and... her life was cut so short that she never made it to New York,” said Dueñas. "I miss my sister. You know, we would today be going to New York together. He took that away from me.”
While the family's quinceaneras, weddings and baptisms continued, they were always missing Blanca's goofiness and her laughter. And Dueñas never stopped wanting justice for her sister, even as months turned to years and the years turned to decades.
"It was very frustrating for many years for the family, asking for some movement to be taken. We all knew who it was and who committed the murder, and we just didn't understand why there was such a huge delay in the extradition,” said Dueñas. “We've been wanting justice for so long, and nobody was listening. Nobody was hearing us - that things needed to change, that they needed to go and pursue him, bring him here."
Three years ago, she got the traction she wanted. In 2019, investigators learned Arellano was living in the Mexican state of Morales and began working on extradition. She said a retired detective, Scotty Clinkenbeard, played a role in moving it forward.
"It felt wonderful to finally be heard, felt wonderful that somebody finally cared about Blanca. He believed that justice needed to be done for her, and, in part because of him, here we are today,” said Dueñas.
Arellano was extradited in November, but his arrest happened back in June. It's a date Dueñas remembers well.
"I was able to sleep better at night after June 22 when they put him behind bars in Mexico, and I'm hoping to sleep better once the jury finds him guilty for life,” said Dueñas.
“I think we'll be able to start healing once the jury finds him guilty, and only then can we begin to heal,” she added.