UPDATE: Accomplice Steven Clark was sentenced to 16 years in the Department of Correction with 373 days credit for time served. Cruz was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Jonathan Cruz shuffled into the courtroom of Marion Superior Judge Shelia Carlisle, his wrists and ankles bound, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, wearing a scraggly beard with wild hair and a red star tattoo just below his right eye.
While Judge Carlisle read the charges for which the prosecutor may seek a sentence of death, Cruz absentmindedly gazed up at the courtroom ceiling, softly answers questions from the bench in a nearly inaudible voice.
In the gallery, his current girlfriend and his infant daughter’s mother both agreed he seemed distracted, like he wasn’t there.
“They’re making him out to be some kind of violent crazy person and he’s not,” said current girlfriend Angela Barger. “He has a three-month-old daughter and yet he had issues but he wasn’t that violent like.”
Ricki Cline is the mother of the little girl.
“He’s not evil like they’re making him out to be. He’s fun but not violent,” she said.
IMPD homicide detectives beg to differ.
Cruz, 19, is charged with 17 counts, including the murders of three men, during random street robberies on the east side in the middle of May.
Billy Boyd was gunned down at East 40th Street and College Avenue May 12. Less than four hours later, Jay Higginbotham died at 928 Denny Street.
On May 15, at Linwood Avenue and East Washington Street, literally around the corner from the home of Cruz’ mother, Jose Ruiz was shot to death.
In between were other robberies, shootings and the kidnapping at gunpoint of a teenage girl whose misfortune it was to trade sex for marijuana with Cruz.
It was her complaint of criminal confinement, and fears of a homicide spree, that led U.S. Marshals, IMPD officers and the Indiana State Police SWAT team to a south side address on May 16 where Cruz fled and fought before being taken into custody and police recovered a gun that tested positive as a murder weapon.
Detectives also grabbed Cruz’ cell phone which they said contained evidence of shootings, bloodshed and bragging rights about the killings the accused teen likened to a movie.
“Cruz told her he had been “Purging,” reads the Probable Cause Affidavit which quotes a witness, referring to a 2013 movie titled “The Purge” that portrays the police backing off one night each year and allowing people to commit murder for 12 hours.
Throughout the court documents, investigators recount claims by witnesses and participants of the alleged mayhem Cruz spread across a swath of the east side from May 12 through May 16.
“It’s rare but we have seen it before,” said Deputy Prosecutor Denise Robinson, “but certainly I think there’s a tendency to get emboldened after you commit that first act and get away with it and continue with it.”
One woman admitted helping Cruz clean blood off stolen money and directing that his clothes be disposed of.
The mother of a girlfriend told Cruz in text messages that he needed to hide and she would help him disappear and that Cruz should change his appearance and delete his Facebook account.
Cruz’ own mother was on the receiving end of text messages boasting of his crime spree and she reminded him that the authorities could recovered deleted data.
Steven Clark is accused along with Cruz in the May 14 robbery of a man whose identification was captured on Cruz’ cell phone.
Clark told police his alleged partner, “was a very violent person, specified that he had ‘no heart,’” and anytime he needed something Johnathan Cruz would “think of the evilest thing possible to get it.”
Barger and Cline, just two of the young women described in court documents as Cruz’ girlfriends, said they weren’t buying it.
“I highly doubt that he done it,” said Cline, “’cause it’s not him. I’ve known him for two years and have a kid with him.”
“Everybody can have a temper but it doesn’t mean you have to shoot someone,” said Barger, outside the courtroom following Cruz’ initial hearing.
“He doesn’t have to be a serial killer like you all are saying,” added Cline. “His daughter has to miss out on his life now because people want to be immature.”
“Who’s being immature?” a reporter asked.
“People who are testifying against him are saying that he has done this stuff are trying to get themselves out of trouble,” said Barger.
“But they’re supposedly friends,” protested Cline.
“The only reason they’re saying this is to get themselves out of trouble,” said Barger.
Both women said the informants should be at the defense table next to Cruz if they took part in the crimes, which they deny Cruz did.
Of course, Clark, aka Rayvaughn Wood, will be tried alongside Cruz for armed robbery.
IMPD Chief Troy Riggs said the cooperation of witnesses and accomplices helped lock up the teenager accused of five percent of all the murders in Indianapolis so far this year, and it’s a welcomed trend.
“We are now seeing more and more people stepping up, being good citizens, being involved. We believe this individual is in jail partly because of that good work, someone giving us information,” said Riggs. “Citizens are calling the police department, getting actively involved in helping us prosecute people to the fullest.”
Riggs said four additional murders, plus the shootings of four men downtown last weekend, were investigated with the help of tips from the public.
“We’re starting to see more and more people in this community stepping up being supportive of the police, being supportive of the prosecutor and helping us enhance the safety of this city.”
Cruz is set to stand trial August 1.
Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he will decide within 30 days whether to seek the death penalty.