Court: 1996 teen killer’s rights violated; resentencing OK’d

Kent County
Frederico Cruz sits behind desk with defense attorney

Frederico “Kiko” Cruz appears in a Kent County courtroom in November 2018 where he was sentenced again to life in prison without parole.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — More than two decades after he murdered a fellow teen and desecrated his body, Federico “Kiko” Cruz is getting another shot at possibly a different prison sentence.

On Wednesday, an appeals court ruled Cruz, who was resentenced in November, should be resentenced again. Erin Van Campen with the Michigan Appellate Defender Office says the court determined the original judge who heard the case, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber, improperly denied the defense’s request to pay for expert consultations.

Campen said the appeals court judge determined expert opinions played a crucial role in determining Cruz should be sentenced to life in prison without parole, and blocking funding for experts violated Cruz’s due process rights.

Cruz was 16 years old when he beat 17-year-old David Crawford to death in the Sparta area in 1996. After the murder, Cruz dissected Crawford’s heart and spine then cut off his head and recorded himself mutilating it.

The video was so disturbing it wasn’t shown to the jury that convicted him of murder. Leiber said that upon rewatching it, Cruz once said the only thing he regretted was his choice of background music.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that automatic no-parole life sentences could not be applied to minors, Cruz was granted a new sentencing hearing. His attorneys asked that his sentence be reduced to a specific term of years, saying he was not irredeemable.

In November before his resentencing, Cruz told Leiber that he had been molested by a cousin as a child, a trauma that set him down the wrong path and led him to fall in with a bad crowd and start doing drugs. He said at the time, he believed he could communicate with demons.

Now having spent more than half his life in prison, Cruz said he has been rehabilitated and is working toward a degree in ministry from Calvin College.

However, Leiber said Cruz’s progress did not change the fact that he is a sociopath, and resentenced him to life in prison without parole.

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker cautioned even then the case wasn’t over, saying all juvenile lifer cases were going to be appealed to a higher court.

Campen says Cruz’s next court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 14, which should help determine the next steps in the case.

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