Gang member sentenced to 50 Years to life in prison for shooting two high school students

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – A gang member was sentenced Friday to 50 years to life behind bars for gunning down two high school students leaving a party in Valencia Park more than two years ago.

Frederick Garcia Cruz, 22, pleaded guilty last month to first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Monique Palmer, 17, and Michael Taylor, 15.

Denise Saunders told Judge David Danielsen that her son was an asset to society and was “taken away for no reason.” She asked that a photo of her son and the other victim be laminated and displayed in Cruz's prison cell to remind him of the lives he took.

“They were going places,” Saunders said. “They had success in life.”

Willie Hill said his friend was a “bright, bright star” who excelled as an athlete.

Coach Mike Hastings noted that Michael made the varsity football team as a freshman.

“We lost a fine young man,” Hastings said. “His smile could light up a room. It's a life unfulfilled.”

Monique's mother, Tracey Swofford, said her daughter was not a gang member and “was going to school to be something.”

The Cal State Los Angeles-bound senior was president of the Lincoln High School campus chapter of Students Against Violence Everywhere.

Her stepfather called the murders of the two teens “senseless.”

“These two young kids did not deserve to die like that,” Curtis Swofford said.

Elesia Steward, the mother of a witness, lambasted the defendant in her short statement to the court.

“Seems like he was a predator and he executed them,” Steward said.

Deputy District Attorney Mike Still called the murders of the teens a “tremendous loss.” He said both victims were trying to doing their best to grow up in a difficult and violent neighborhood.

After listening to Still, an otherwise stoic Cruz muttered, “I didn't do that (expletive).”

Cruz was serving time in prison for an unrelated robbery when he was arrested last fall for the teens' murders in the early morning hours of Dec. 6, 2008.

They were at a party in the 5500 block of Churchward Street when three carloads of gang members arrived and shouted threats. Two pointed handguns at the partygoers, prompting the victims and other partygoers to leave.

They were walking on San Jacinto Drive when two people approached and struck up a conversation before one of them pulled a gun and fired. A second gunman is still being sought, according to Still.

Michael died at the scene, and Monique died about 45 minutes later at a hospital.

Derrelle Oliver and James Marquece Tyler were previously arrested in the case.

Oliver pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon for pointing a BB gun at the crowd leaving the party and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Tyler pleaded guilty to assault and was placed on probation, Still said.

Categories: KUSI