1996 teen killer pleads for chance at freedom

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was one of the most gruesome killings Kent County has ever seen.

In 1996, 16-year-old Federico Cruz beat 17-year-old David Crawford to death near the Sparta airport. Cruz later cut off the victim’s head and mutilated it while recording himself on a home video he called “The Murder Show.”

He was convicted of murder and sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.

But now, more than 20 years later and after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Cruz could get a new sentence and the possibility of parole.

He was back in a Kent County courtroom Monday for a hearing in which his defense attorney asked the judge for a reduced sentence with a specific term of years.

“Is Mr. Cruz so irredeemable, corrupt he can never be rehabilitated? I don’t believe that. I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” attorney Andrew Rodenhouse told the judge.

Cruz’s mother, father and Cruz himself all took the stand. The teen killer testified that he was molested by a cousin at just 10 or 12 years old.

“I felt disgusted. I felt dirty,” Cruz said.

He said that trauma led him down the wrong path. He later got caught up in a bad crowd, was doing drugs and believed he could communicate with demons. Cruz said all that ultimately led to him to commit the horrific crime.

Cruz testified that he’s now a different man. He said he’s been rehabilitated thanks to prison programs.

He had a message for Crawford’s family members who sat in on the hearing.

“I took something from them that I can never give back. There’s memories I took. I stole it from them. They didn’t deserve it,” he said.

But Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who’s asking the judge to uphold the life sentence without parole, said Cruz had problems well before he was molested. Doctor’s reports show Cruz admitted to starting fires and torturing animals at a young age.

“He made a conscious decision at the spur of a moment to kill another human being. And no pictures with dogs or sending stuff to needy kids who are needing food is going to cure what are some deep-seeded issues that predated the 10-year-old molestation,” Becker told the judge.

“This is something substantially and seriously wrong with an individual who would cut off the head of a another person and cut out his heart and cut out his spine,” Becker continued.

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber, who presided over the original trial, listened to the arguments and will make a final decision on whether to uphold the original sentence or give Cruz a reduced sentence. That’s expected to happen Wednesday.

Cruz is one of 22 juvenile lifers in Kent County who will or already have gotten new hearings. Prosecutors are trying to keep 13 of them behind bars, while the other nine will have the shot at a new sentence without resistance from the prosecutor’s office.

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