Prosecutor prepares for hearings on 13 juvenile killers serving life terms

Kent county juvenile lifer

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Nearly 21 years after Federico Cruz killed a teen near Sparta and recorded himself talking to the severed head, Kent County’s retired prosecutor was back in court Friday to lay the groundwork for keeping Cruz locked up for life.

He asked a Kent County judge to order the release of sealed files that contain information about Cruz, including his home life and psychological profiles, which William Forsyth wants for an eventual re-sentencing hearing.

Forsyth, who retired last year, is handling the re-sentencing hearing for Cruz and several others.

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis B. Leiber granted the request to have the confidential files unsealed.

Forsyth was appointed special prosecutor to handle the cases of 13 killers serving mandatory life in prison for murders committed as teens, including Cruz. At some point, the 13 will be back in Kent County Circuit Court to be re-sentenced.

Forsyth is seeking no parole sentences for the 13; Cruz is near the top of his list.

“Well, all you have to do is go look at the records of what he did and I think you’ll understand why I don’t want him to get out,’’ Forsyth said Friday, April 14.

Cruz was 16 when he met and killed a Sparta teen along railroad tracks near the Sparta Airport on April 25, 1996. The headless body of 17-year-old David Crawford remained unidentified for several days. Cruz made a videotape of himself talking to the severed head, which he called “Eddie.’’

Cruz was convicted of first-degree murder and mutilation of a body. Leiber, who presided over the trial, sentenced him in December, 1997 to mandatory life in prison without possibility of parole.

Now 37, Cruz is at the Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven.

That mandatory life sentence, along with 23 others in Kent County, were upended when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life terms for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional.

Instead of mandatory life, teen killers now face a minimum sentence of between 25 and 40 years and a maximum term of not less than 60 years. Teen killers can still receive a mandatory life sentence, but it requires a special hearing.

“At some point in time there’s going to be a hearing on these cases as to whether the court is going to re-impose a life sentence,’’ Forsyth said. “I don’t know when these hearings will be held, but to try to get a leg up on it would be beneficial to the court and to the parties involved to get access to the files.’’

Attorney Andrew Rodenhouse, who is representing Cruz, agrees the information would be beneficial – with a caveat.

“The problem that I have is without knowing what’s in the file, I have no idea if I should stipulate to it or not,’’ Rodenhouse said. “I’m being asked to do something without knowing what’s in it.’’

Leiber opted to open the files, saying Forsyth and Rodenhouse “have a legitimate interest’’ to the confidential information.

“We have opened the inquiry into cases long settled involving minors who have murdered,’’ Leiber said. “Virtually everything in the confidential file is potentially relevant to that inquiry.’’

The judge also ordered the confidential files of Willie Terrell Clemons to be opened. Clemons was 15 years old when he shot and killed a man during a robbery outside Fulton Heights Foods on East Fulton Street near Wilcox Park as horrified patrons looked on. The murder took place in Oct. 1995. Forsyth is seeking a no-parole sentence for Clemons. 

When Cruz, Clemons and the others will be back in court for re-sentencing is anyone’s guess. Prosecutors across the state are waiting for a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court as to whether the offenders will be sentenced by a judge or a jury.

Forsyth says he is hopeful a ruling will come by the end of the year. “Why they’ve chosen not to do this in an expeditious manner is beyond me,’’ he said.

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