PHOENIX - It was August 1984 when the bodies of Kelly Cooper, age 16 and Ermalinda Iannuzzi, age 14 were found hidden under desert brush a few feet away from the Beeline Highway near the Arizona Canal.
In one of the oldest cold cases ever solved by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, they extradited Scott Junior Merila, also known as Mark Stephen Merila, from San Diego in August 2008, 22 years after the crime.
Evidence found at the scene suggested that Merila sexually assaulted the two teenaged girls. In 2003, there was a leap forward in DNA analysis and MCSO resubmitted the evidence to the crime lab. In 2005, a DNA hit came back to Merila who was being held in a Florida jail.
Before detectives could get there, Merila was released on parole and disappeared
Before detectives could get there, Merila was released on parole and disappeared. Merila was tracked down a year later in a San Diego jail.
When detectives interviewed Merila, he told them he was celebrating his 20th birthday in the area where the bodies were found. He said he did have sex with a girl, but denied committing the murders.
However, back in 1984, his girlfriend told police that they were "joy riding" in the desert, in the same area, two days after the killings and she saw one of the bodies. She contacted police who found the bodies about 50 feet apart from each other.
MCSO detectives traveled to five states to interview witnesses and collect evidence regarding this case.
Today, Merila remains in a Florence prison on two life sentences.