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Santa Maria Man Pleads Guilty to Murder for Fatal Stabbing of Teen in 2016

Israel Gaspar Cruz Click to view larger
Israel Gaspar Cruz

The final defendant in a gang-related case involving the fatal stabbing of a Santa Maria high school student more than two years ago has changed his plea to guilty.

Israel Gaspar Cruz, 21, will be sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison after pleading guilty to the murder of Marco Javier Arce Pena in January 2016. 

Cruz entered the plea before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Patricia Kelly to first-degree murder, and admitted he personally used a deadly weapon, a knife, during the gang-related crime.

Cruz, 19 years old when he was taken into custody, was the only adult among six people arrested following the Jan. 25, 2016, slaying of the 15-year-old boy on the 1600 block of Donovan Road near Suey Road after a confrontation between two groups. 

Pena attended Pioneer Valley High School, which is a few blocks from where the stabbing occurred.

Near the end of the preliminary hearing in February 2017, Deputy District Attorney Mai Trieu noted the victim had 25 stab wounds, which were listed as his cause of death.

Cruz's trial had been delayed several times, but was scheduled to start this summer. 

“The Santa Maria Police Department did an excellent job investigating this case, seeking justice for the victim and his family,” the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office said. 

The remaining five defendants, all under 18 years old at the time of their arrests but charged as adults, pleaded guilty to charges related to the fatal stabbing.

Cruz, who was represented by Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas, will return to court Sept. 7 for sentencing. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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