Sonya Murillo pleads guilty to production of child sex abuse material

ALPINE — Marfa resident Sonya Murillo pleaded guilty last week to one count of production of child sex abuse material. She is facing a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

As of press time, a sentencing date for Murillo has yet to be determined. “A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors,” the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) wrote in a press release. Murillo reached a plea agreement with the USAO, but the court filing on the terms of that agreement is sealed and unavailable to the public.

Murillo, 32, has been held in federal custody since her arrest in June 2023. Videos of Murillo sexually abusing a minor were discovered by Texas Department of Public Safety officers during an investigation involving Murillo’s former boyfriend Patricio Javier “P.J” Serrano, the USAO wrote in the release. 

Serrano, 36, was charged and pleaded guilty to possession and transportation of child sex abuse material last October. He faces five to 20 years in prison for the transportation charge and up to 20 years in prison for the possession charge. His sentencing date is set for February 27. 

Both Serrano and Murillo were involved with local youth. He was a coach for girls 10 and up at the Big Bend Amateur Softball Association, and she was a regular substitute teacher at Marfa ISD. 

After Murillo’s arrest on child sexual exploitation charges last summer, some Marfa ISD parents and teachers raised concerns about the school district’s inaction following the news. They took issue with the fact that no communication was sent out to the public and no resources for students, like counseling, were initially offered.

“I felt like they could have done a lot more,” said a former teacher, Jackie Hernandez. “It was like everyone knew, but it was still not talked about. [It was] very hush, hush.” 

At the time, the school district acknowledged the public’s frustration and said they would work to improve communication with the community. “The Marfa Independent School District (MISD) Board of Trustees and Interim Superintendent would like to publicly apologize to the students and to the parents of those students who were directly impacted by the Serrano/Murillo cases currently under investigation,” the board wrote in an August 2023 letter to the editor. “Our priority is to offer our immediate support directly to those families who may be affected.” 

Murillo’s attorney, Bart Medley, did not return requests for comment on her guilty plea. Assistant U.S. attorneys Amy Greenbaum and Kevin Cayton are prosecuting the case. 

The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, Texas Department of Public Safety and Marfa Police Department are investigating the case. The case was brought as part of “Project Safe Childhood,” a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched by the Department of Justice in May 2006.