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Woman charged with 2 murders extradited to Henderson from Peru

Updated November 1, 2019 - 6:07 pm

A 44-year-old woman charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of a former UNLV professor in 2016 and her husband in 2005 has been extradited from Peru and booked into the Henderson Detention Center.

Rita Colon was extradited Thursday with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service, according to a Henderson Police Department news release.

The FBI’s Las Vegas division assisted in arresting Colon in Peru on Dec. 18, 2017, the release said. According to a Henderson arrest warrant, she fled to the country after stabbing 77-year-old Leroy Pelton, her boyfriend and a former UNLV professor.

Pelton’s body was discovered in his Henderson home in December 2016, after he was last seen in early November, police have said. He died from multiple stab wounds to the neck, the Clark County coroner’s office has said.

Detectives believed Rita Colon’s motivation for killing Pelton was to gain access to a $1.1 million retirement fund, the warrant said.

She is charged with murder with a deadly weapon, with an “elder enhancement” due to Pelton’s age, according to the Friday news release.

‘Mixed feelings’

Henderson police announced Colon’s imprisonment in Peru in January. But before she could be extradited, another murder charge was brought against her.

Edwin Colon was married for less than a year when the 37-year-old was pronounced dead early Feb. 3, 2005, in the couple’s North Las Vegas home. The night of her husband’s death, Rita Colon told police her husband had stabbed himself in the neck during an argument.

Investigators believed her, and the Clark County coroner’s office ruled his death a suicide. When details of Pelton’s death came out early this year, Edwin Colon’s brother thought the men’s stab wounds were eerily similar.

“We had more questions than answers right from the get-go,” Luis Colon has said about his brother’s death.

Luis Colon told the Review-Journal on Friday evening that he has “mixed feelings” now that Rita Colon has returned to the U.S.

“I’m happy because finally we’re one step closer for justice, and at the same time sad because the wound opens up,” he said.

He also said he was afraid his brother’s case would be pushed under the rug while prosecutors pursue a more straightforward conviction for Pelton’s death.

“I don’t want to say that I don’t trust them, but they’re putting it on the back burner,” Luis Colon said about the prosecutors and North Las Vegas police investigating his brother’s death. “If this case becomes a big thing, it’s going to show ineptitude and negligence on the people who worked on this case (in 2005).”

Prosecutor Michael Schwartzer said Friday evening that he does not plan to try the cases together, in part because the two deaths happened so many years apart.

“The primary focus is going to be on the Henderson case in the beginning,” he said. “I appreciate Mr. Colon’s family, and I understand that they’ve been waiting a long time for justice.”

Re-examining Edwin’s death

North Las Vegas police spokesman Eric Leavitt told the Review-Journal in May that if murder charges were brought against Rita Colon in her husband’s death, then “that means someone grossly missed something” in 2005.

The road to reopening Edwin Colon’s case started in May, when the coroner’s office re-examined his death. But medical examiners had no body to study — Rita Colon had pushed for her husband to be cremated after his death, Luis Colon said.

But the coroner’s office eventually changed Edwin Colon’s manner of death from “suicide” to “undetermined.”

After interviewing Edwin Colon’s family, re-examining crime scene photos and speaking with medical examiners, North Las Vegas detectives recommended the murder charges. She was charged in August, and indicted by a grand jury on a charge of murder with a deadly weapon in September, court records show.

In a North Las Vegas arrest warrant, detectives noted signs of a struggle in the home the night Edwin Colon died, cuts and fingernail scratches on his body, and previous allegations of domestic violence from a former boyfriend.

While investigating Pelton’s death in 2016, Henderson police spoke to that former boyfriend, who claimed Rita Colon punched him and rammed his car with hers after they broke up.

“When asked to describe Rita, (the man) stated she was a sociopath,” a Henderson detective wrote in 2016, adding that “he also stated he felt confident that she had killed her husband.”

As a condition of her extradition, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty in the case, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in August.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the cases in an October email, stating that the department doesn’t comment on extraditions until the defendant is in the U.S.

Luis Colon on Friday said he hopes that by keeping his brother’s death in the public eye, the North Las Vegas murder charge will not be forgotten. He said that if that case were to go to trial, he would want to see the original detective and medical examiner answer questions about what happened while investigating Edwin Colon’s death nearly 15 years ago.

“Not that they didn’t do their job, but they obviously did errors — egregious errors — when it comes to a person losing their life,” he said.

Online court records Friday did not indicate when Rita Colon will appear in court in the Henderson or North Las Vegas cases. She remained in the Henderson jail on Friday without bail, records show.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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