Merced man arrested on suspicion of soliciting, killing 17-year-old girl, police say

Benjamin Herbert Goddard, 34, of Merced
Benjamin Herbert Goddard, 34, of Merced Courtesy Merced County Sheriff's Office

A 34-year-old Merced man has been arrested for allegedly killing a 17-year-old girl whose body was found in a field last year near Merced Regional Airport.

Benjamin Herbert Goddard, 34, faces charges of murder and soliciting a minor in connection with the death of Heaven Murillo, a Golden Valley High student whose badly decomposed body was found on Sept. 2, 2017, in the 100 block of Hawk Drive, according to Merced County Superior Court records and investigation reports obtained by the Sun-Star.

Goddard’s arrest was the result of a year-long investigation, including interviews of dozens of people and police interrogation tactics that appear to show Goddard had sexual encounters with Murillo, a minor, and that he was the last person to see her, before she ended up missing, according to the reports.

Cell phone location tracking and text messages obtained by police indicate Goddard was at the location where Murillo’s body was found at the time police believe she was dumped, the reports state.

The investigation also paints a grim story of a girl who was taken advantage of by multiple men seeking sex over the course of her teenage years, according to family members.

“Heaven was not like your typical 17-year-old,” said Heaven Murillo’s mother, JoAnna Murillo, noting her daughter would often run away from home.

“She’s very child-like, playful,” Murillo said. “She would get antsy just being in the house too long, so sometimes she’d just leave.”

In 2016, the teen, with the support of her family, reported being raped. A 48-year-old Merced man was arrested last month in connection with the alleged rape, Murillo said.

JoAnna Murillo said her daughter also was molested years prior. Heaven was a “free spirit,” her mother said, which pushed her to open up to people. “She was a very loving girl,” JoAnna Murillo said. “She talked to everybody, and she was just sweet like that.”

But that also meant she was vulnerable to outside influences her family didn’t know about. “She was having some issues, and she ended up being with a different circle of people,” JoAnna Murillo said. “I didn’t even know about all these adults until after.”

The last time JoAnna Murillo saw her daughter was July 10, 2017, she said, when police brought Heaven back home after the teen had run away. “I didn’t even get a chance to talk to her,” JoAnna Murillo said, before her daughter fled again through the back door.

After that, Heaven stayed at the homes of several friends and acquaintances, and their parents, according to investigation reports.

One acquaintance, a lecturer at the UC Merced, told authorities Heaven Murillo accused her mother and sisters of mentally and physically abusing her. That person said she was helping Heaven file for emancipation from her family, according to reports.

That’s the narrative about her familial relationship that other witnesses told police. “She always told people that stuff; it’s how she got to people to take her in,” Heaven’s mother said. “Everyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t put my hands on any of my kids.”

While away from home, Heaven Murillo developed a relationship with at least one adult male figure — a father of her friend — who admitted to police that he had sex with her once, not knowing she was under 18, the reports state.

That man told police the last time he saw Heaven was either in June or July 2017, before she left in his neighbor’s white truck with Goddard, who often borrowed the neighbor’s truck, according to reports.

Goddard reportedly told investigators Heaven stayed with him for more than two full days near an illegal marijuana grow “compound” he was allegedly guarding at the south end of R Street in Merced.

This was the same compound that was raided by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office in an unrelated case, sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Framstad said.

Goddard also supplied Heaven with methamphetamine during the stay, according to reports.

Goddard told detectives Heaven had a bad “high” on the drugs and started to act strange, playing and walking in and out of a nearby canal and attracting attention to the illegal marijuana field he was guarding.

The two also took a trip to Lake Yosemite with one of Goddard’s friends, who told investigators the three were “playing in the water” and “walking around,” before arriving back at the compound late at night.

The friend told authorities that’s when Goddard asked him to leave because he and Heaven Murillo wanted to have sex, the reports state. Investigators believe after the two days Goddard was with Heaven, he killed her.

Goddard admitted to having the relationship with Heaven Murillo, thinking she was 20 years old. But he consistently denied taking part in her death, according to investigation reports.

According to Goddard, he saw the teen last leave in a van at another person’s residence, the reports state. But police couldn’t corroborate his story.

They also found a suspicious drawing in Goddard’s personal journal depicting a skeleton that resembled the same position and injuries as Heaven’s body when she was found.

According to autopsy records, Heaven’s body sustained several fractures in the face and right ribs, and blunt force trauma to the face, the reports state.

During their interrogation, detectives noticed Goddard had suspicious reactions to some evidence he wasn’t told about or shouldn’t have known, such as when he became nervous when offered a heating blanket similar to the one discovered near Murillo’s body, according to reports.

Also, several people who knew or saw Goddard and Heaven Murillo told authorities they believed Goddard killed her.

Goddard, who was already in law enforcement custody for another charge, was arrested on Oct. 16, according to a news release by the Merced Police Department.

Goddard has not yet entered a plea to his charges, but is expected to do so during an arraignment hearing scheduled Friday.

“I’ve been just trying to get (Heaven’s) face out there,” JoAnna Murillo said, noting her daughter’s death has devastated her family. “I don’t want anyone to forget her. And I don’t want this person to get away with what he did.”