SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A gang member convicted of first-degree murder for killing a teenage girl in an abandoned house in Golden Hill on New Year's Eve 2007 apologized to her family Friday as he was sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.
Antero Cruz was imprisoned by Judge Robert F. O'Neill for the slaying of 14-year-old Ahlyja Pinson, whose body was found by a homeless man in a vacant house on E Street.
Deputy District Attorney Kristen Spieler told jurors during Cruz's trial that he beat, stabbed and strangled the teen inside the home, which was a haven for illegal activities.
Cruz, 24, acknowledged making numerous mistakes in his life, and said killing Ahlyja was the biggest of them.
"I know I have caused you a lot of tears and sorrow," he told the victim's family, reading from a prepared statement. "I know I don't deserve your forgiveness, I know that very well. I should be dead, six feet under."
According to Spieler, the teenager died from repeated blows to her head, and had puncture wounds visible all over her body. There was so much blood in the room that police thought she had been shot.
Cruz's palm print was found on a wall in the abandoned home. He was arrested 11 days after the murder but released as investigators continued looking for evidence, Spieler said.
While in jail, Cruz called a friend, admitted the murder and even bragged about it, the prosecutor told the jury.
Detectives re-interviewed witnesses, and some new ones came forward, and Cruz was re-arrested and charged in October 2010.
The night she was killed, Pinson had plans to go out with her cousin, the prosecutor said. The sister of the man the cousin was dating was the defendant's girlfriend, she said.
A friend of the defendant said Cruz came by that night with blood on him and asked for a change of clothes, Spieler told the jury. The victim's blood was found on a rubber liner in the trunk of his car, according to the prosecutor.
Two separate cases are pending against Cruz. He is charged with hit-and-run and assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly driving his car over a rival gang member two years ago, breaking the victim's leg. A status conference is set for April 6 in that case, with trial scheduled for April 16.
He also is accused of assaulting an investigator at the San Diego County Courthouse last month.
Chance of light rain in the morning on Thanksgiving Thursday. Temperatures will cool through Friday and onshore flow continues to strengthen.