Camino de Santiago killing

Killer of US tourist Denise Thiem on Spain’s Santiago Way gets 23 years

A jury in León found Miguel Ángel Muñoz guilty of murdering the woman while on the pilgrimage route

A Spanish court has sentenced Miguel Ángel Muñoz to 23 years in prison for murdering Denise Pikka Thiem, a US citizen who was traveling alone on the popular pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago when she was attacked by the Spaniard.

Miguel Ángel Muñoz (right) with his lawyer during the trial.
Miguel Ángel Muñoz (right) with his lawyer during the trial.EFE

A jury recently found Muñoz, 41, guilty of killing Thiem on April 5, 2015, after she took a detour from the main road to visit the small municipality of Castrillo de Polvazares, in the northern Spanish province of León.

Her disappearance triggered a months-long search, with US Senator John McCain offering Spain help from the FBI to find the Arizona native.

Authorities only found the body after Muñoz confessed and took them to the place where he had buried it – minus the hands, which he had cut off and which were never found. Despite initially admitting to the crime, Muñoz later retracted his confession.

Public prosecutors had sought 25 years for Thiem’s killer, while the private prosecution was pressing for 27 years. The Provincial Court of León handed down a 20-year conviction for the murder, and three more years for violent robbery, as Muñoz took the pilgrim’s cash and later attempted to change the dollars into euros at a local bank.

At the trial, officers had explained how all evidence kept leading them straight to Muñoz, a man whom neighbors have described as anti-social and prone to odd behavior.

Two other women who also walked the pilgrimage trail had previously reported being assaulted along the same stretch of road by a man matching his description.

English version by Susana Urra.

More information