GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A man seeking eventual freedom for a grisly murder and beheading committed as a teen says the 1996 crime, inspired by Satan, continues to haunt him.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world knowing I did that,’’ Federico Cruz said at a hearing in Grand Rapids Monday to determine whether his no parole sentence should be modified to a term of years.
“There’s nothing I can say,’’ Cruz said Monday during the first part of his resentencing hearing in Kent County Circuit Court. He returns to court on Wednesday.
Now 39 and wearing glasses, Cruz says he turned to God after entering prison. He addressed the family of his murder victim, 17-year-old David Crawford, during a two-hour hearing before Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber.
“I took something from them I can never give back,’’ Cruz said. “Memories. I stole it from them. They didn’t deserve it, but I was a coward when I was a kid.’’
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told the court that Cruz should die behind bars.
“This is something substantially and seriously wrong with an individual who would cut off the head of another person and cut out his heart and cut out his spine,’’ Becker said. “There is something wrong with somebody like that.’’
Leiber will rule on Wednesday whether Cruz should remain in prison for life or receive a term of years. If he is given a term of years, the minimum sentence would be between 25 and 40 years.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles. It said life sentences are still an option, but only under the rarest of circumstances.
The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has filed motions to impose no parole sentences on 13 defendants serving life terms for murders committed as teens. Becker says Cruz tops the list.
On April 29, 1996, Cruz struck up a conversation with Crawford, who was walking along railroad tracks near Schultz Street NW outside of Sparta in northern Kent County. Cruz offered to show Crawford marijuana plants growing in the woods. When Crawford stepped on one of the plants, Cruz said he began to beat the teen. He kicked him in the head numerous times and stepped on his throat.
Cruz said he returned to the scene of the crime about 10 hours later and cut off Crawford's head. He then propped Crawford's body up against a tree before taking the head home with him.
Crawford’s headless body remained unidentified for several days. Cruz made a videotape of himself talking to the severed head, which he called “Eddie.’’
In asking that Cruz be resentenced to a term of years, defense attorney Andrew Rodenhouse said his client has worked diligently to improve himself since going to prison in December of 1997.
Cruz is enrolled in college courses and is involved in dispute resolution. He’s donated about $5,700 to feed hungry kids and supports leader dogs for the blind, Rodenhouse said.
“What Mr. Cruz did was inexcusable, but he has gone a long way towards improving himself,’’ Rodenhouse said. “Is Mr. Cruz so irredeemably corrupt that he can never be rehabilitated? I don’t believe that.’’
Cruz, one of five siblings, said he had a stable childhood, but his father was a disciplinarian.
He said he was around 10 years old when a cousin sexually assaulted him. “I felt disgusted. I felt dirty,’’ Cruz testified on Monday.
He said he did not tell his parents what happened because he was ashamed and did not want to be considered "a sissy.''
“I just remember feeling disgusted with myself a lot,’’ Cruz said. “I thought by being more violent and by doing crazy stuff, I’d be more of a man.’’
That reckless behavior led to criminal activity, substance abuse and running with the wrong crowd. Cruz said he got into death metal music and became a follower of Satan.
Cruz admitted to killing Crawford “to please Satan,’’ his attorney said.
Under cross-examination from Becker, Cruz acknowledged the savagery of the attack.
“We can’t go through this without talking about the fact that you videotaped yourself mutilating the severed head. Do you remember calling that ‘the murder show?’'' Becker asked.
"Yes,'' Cruz responded.
“And you’re saying the reason you cut out the heart is a sacrifice. A sacrifice to Satan,’’ Becker asked.
"Yes,'' Cruz said.
Despite efforts by Cruz to better himself while in prison, Becker said the depravity of the murder justifies a life sentence.
“He made a conscious decision to go out and suffocate another human being by crushing, standing on him, crushing his windpipe and his throat and cutting off his head,’’ Becker said. “He admitted this was a cold-blooded murder.’’
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