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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 12:13 am | Fair 51º


Santa Maria Man Sentenced for Fatal Gang-Related Stabbing of Teen Boy in 2016

The death of a 14-year-old boy as he walked home from school “destroyed a beautiful family," a Santa Maria Superior Court judge heard Friday before sentencing the man who committed the gang-related stabbing to spend 26 years to life in state prison.

Israel Gaspar Cruz of Santa Maria was charged with stabbing Marcos Javier Arce Pena, 14, in the 1600 block of East Donovan Road in January 2016. The teen, initially identified by police as 15 years old,  received 25 stab wounds in the attack. 

Cruz was sentenced Friday afternoon during a hearing before Judge Gustavo Lavayen after the defendant previously changed his plea to guilty of murder and wielding the knife that killed the teen.

The defendant made a brief statement after a slideshow of pictures showing the victim from school and other life milestones played in court.

“I want to start by apologizing to the family,” Cruz said while sitting next to Deputy Public Defender Lea Villegas.

He added that when people make mistakes, they should learn from their errors and take responsibility for their actions.

Calling it “an absolutely horrible and senseless murder,” the judge told Cruz he not only hurt a family, but he harmed his own life. 

“Unfortunately, the gang culture that exists in this community has become blight on the community,” Lavayen said, expressing sympathy for the victim's family and encouraging Cruz to take advantage of the programs offered so he spends his time in prison productively.

Earlier, Deputy District Attorney Mai Trieu read several victim impact statements on behalf of the relatives who shared how the violent death “destroyed a beautiful family,” taking a physical emotional, mental and economical toll.

“Marcos’ death has left a huge void in our lives. We have lost a son, brother and wonderful young man who was just starting his young life in high school and had very big dreams,” Trieu read from the parents’ statement.

The family fears gang members and said the act of violence went against what Marcos, a Pioneer Valley High School student, stood for.

“He was a very good person who would never dream of hurting anyone,” Trieu read. “In contrast, he was a young man who liked to help his family as well as others. 

“He was a very loving and caring person who unfortunately died at the hands of some very mean and cruel individuals who don’t value life.”

The boy’s mother has been hospitalized for depression since her son’s murder and during a July gathering mistook a nephew for Marcos. 

“It was a very painful moment for her, and it was very heartwrenching to see,” Trieu read from an aunt’s statement. “I believe that only God is giving her the strength to carry on.”

Trieu also spoke out against the gang-related violence against Marcos, an innocent bystander. 

“Unfortunately, this case is another example of the gang violence in our community, and many young individuals make choices to become a part of that life but they do not consider the consequences until it’s too late,” Trieu said. 

Six people initially were charged with murder and a special allegation that the crime was connected to gang activity, but the others took plea deals involving lesser charges.

The other defendants — Carlos Geovani Perez, Daniel Jaime, Gerardo Gonzalez Flores, Pablo Juarez and Andrew Molina — received sentences ranging from four years to 12 years. 

At the time of the killing, the defendants ranged in age from 14 to 19 with Cruz the oldest. All six were charged as adults.

The fatal stabbing in broad daylight on a busy street was one of Santa Maria’s six homicides in an especially violent January 2016 and 2015.

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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