Man found guilty in murder of two teens back in 1984

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PHOENIX - The following is a press release from the County Attorney's Office:

County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced today that Mark Stephen Merila, 44 (DOB 8/25/64), has been found guilty of the kidnappings and murders of two teenage girls in 1984.

The victims were 16 and 14 at the time of their deaths. Kelly Cooper and Ermelinda Iannuzzi were friends who both went missing in Mesa twenty-four years ago. Their bodies were discovered along the Beeline Highway three days after their disappearance. Merila, who had resided in Phoenix, was connected to the deaths through DNA evidence and arrested in San Diego in 2006.

After a four week trial, a jury returned their verdicts on November 3, 2008. Merila was found guilty of two counts of First Degree Murder, class one dangerous felonies, and two counts of Kidnapping, class two dangerous felonies.

In December 2005, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement notified the Arizona Department of Public Service of a match from a DNA profile that DPS had submitted in 2002 to a national database administered through the FBI. The match was made to Merila, a Florida convicted offender. In January 2006, the DPS notified the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, the investigative agency in the case, that it had confirmed the match. The MCSO placed a note hold to a Florida warrant out on the defendant for a probation violation and absconding. On March 14, 2006, Merila approached San Diego Police and advised them that he wanted to turn himself in on a warrant as friends had seen his photograph on TV announcing he was wanted.

"I commend the investigators who never gave up. My hope is that because of their diligent work, some measure of peace will be imparted to the families of these two innocent victims," said Thomas.

The defendant will be sentenced on December 5, 2008 in the courtroom of Judge Christopher Whitten. He faces life in prison for the murder charges.

Deputy County Attorneys Mark Barry and Kristen Larish are prosecuting the case.