Homicide

Police: Man who fled to Mexico in 2006 is cold case murder suspect

Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez in 2000 booking photo and Sunny Sudweeks in a high school yearbook photo.

Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez in 2000 booking photo and Sunny Sudweeks in a high school yearbook photo.  (Costa Mesa Police Department)

A Mexican who fled the U.S. a decade ago has been identified as the suspect in the 1997 cold case killing of a 26-year-old Southern Californian woman, police said.

Cops believe college student Sunny Sudweeks was raped and strangled to death when an intruder broke into her home in Costa Mesa home after midnight on February 23, 1997.

Costa Mesa Police named Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez as her killer at a press conference Thursday on the 20th anniversary of the murder. They had reopened the case in November.

Police said that Hernandez, 43, had lived in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana until he fled to Mexico in 2006.

Prosecutors will ask the Mexican government for help in extraditing Hernandez, Fox 11 Los Angeles reported.

They believe he is living in the resort town of Puerto Escondido in central Mexico, where he delivers take-out rotisserie chicken. They also believe he has a wife and three children.

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“Sunny was a beautiful young woman. She was just beginning to start her career,” the victim’s father, Alan Sudweeks, said at the press conference, according to The Los Angeles Times. “She had a bright future and that was all lost when she was attacked and killed by [Hernandez]. I’m also angry that for 20 years he has been enjoying life, raising his own children, and yet he denied us the comfort and value of our daughter.”

Police don’t believe Sudweeks and Hernandez knew each other, the paper reported.

Her boyfriend found her body. At the time, he was a cabbie working overnights. 

Police said they established that fingerprints found at the crime scene belonged to Hernandez, after running the prints through a national database when the case was reopened. His fingerprints were obtained after he was convicted in a 2000 domestic violence case.

Police said they also linked Hernandez to the crime through DNA evidence.

“This was truly a horrific, tragic crime that weighed heavy on our shoulders and organization, not to mention the Sudweeks family,” Costa Mesa Police Chief Robert Sharpnack said, according to The Orange County Register.