×

8 indicted in March killing of Daniel Cruz, of Northampton 

  • Daniel Cruz’s body was found burning in a field off Bridge Lane in Hatfield, pictured here, on March 10, 2018.  File photo

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright, 22, of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright, 22, of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright,22 of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright,22 of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hamsphire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright, 22, of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court, on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright,22, of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges.  —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright,22, of Northampton, at her arraignment Tuesday in Hampshire Superior Court on charges in connection with the death of Daniel Cruz 44, of Northampton. Diaz-Wright was charged with accessory after the fact to murder and nine other criminal charges. Diaz-Wright reacts to a judge’s decision to increase her bail. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kimberly A. Perez, 26, of Springfield is arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and four other criminal charges in the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Kimberly A. Perez, 26, of Springfield is arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and four other criminal charges in the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton in March.  —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matthew M. Ross, 24, of Northampton appears for arraignment in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and four other criminal charges in the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matthew M. Ross, 24, of Northampton appears for arraignment in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and four other criminal charges in the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Matthew M. Ross, 24, of Northampton appears for arraignment in Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, on a charge of accessory after the fact to murder and four other criminal charges in the death of Daniel Cruz, 44, of Northampton in March. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Looking east toward the Connecticut River on Bridge Lane in Hatfield. Taken on Sunday, March 11, 2018. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING



Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the conditions of Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright’s bail. 

NORTHAMPTON — Three of the eight people indicted in connection with the killing of Daniel Cruz in March were arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court Tuesday.

Cruz, 44, of Northampton, was shot three times at the Meadowbrook Apartments in Northampton during an argument on March 10, according to prosecutors. His body was found burning in a field in Hatfield later that night.

A Hampshire Superior Court grand jury issued 51 indictments against the eight on Monday, and warrants were subsequently issued for their arrests.

Nerkin Omar Morales, 22, of Northampton was indicted on the charge of murder, among a number of other charges. Five others — Pedro J. Soto-Rodriguez, 21, Mercedes N. Diaz-Wright, 22, Chelsea T. Rodriguez, 22, and Alondra E. Gil, 23, all of Northampton, and Kimberly A. Perez, 26, of Springfield — were charged with accessory to murder after the fact and several other charges.

Matthew M. Ross, 24, of Northampton, was charged with accessory to murder after the fact, while Joshua T. Ealy, 20, of Northampton, was charged with perjury in relation to the grand jury investigation.

Morales, Soto-Rodriguez, Diaz-Wright, Perez, Ealy and Ross are all in custody. Gil and Rodriguez are currently at large, according to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.

“They will be sought after, and obtained and extradited back to this commonwealth for arraignment,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Suhl, who is prosecuting the case.

Diaz-Wright was arraigned in Hampshire Superior Court on 12 charges Tuesday before Judge Richard Carey: accessory after the fact to murder, burning personal property, two counts of withholding evidence from criminal proceedings, two counts of conspiracy, improper disposition of a human body, intimidation of a witness, unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition without identification card, misleading a police officer, and subornation of perjury.

Ringleader

In court, Suhl described Diaz-Wright “as essentially the ringleader” of the group of people who allegedly helped to dispose of Cruz’s body and cover up his murder. Suhl said Diaz-Wright cleaned up blood in the apartment where Cruz was allegedly killed, that she hid the alleged murder weapon in a storage locker that belonged to her at the time, that she helped to transport Cruz’s body to Hatfield, and that she worked to make sure that people’s stories were on the same page.

Diaz-Wright was previously indicted on another charge of misleading a police officer related to the case, and was out on $3,500 bail on that charge. Prosecutors requested an additional $10,000 cash bail on the 12 charges, which her attorney, Alfred Chamberland, said she and her family did not have the resources to pay.

“She really has no ability to post additional bail,” he said.

Chamberland said Diaz-Wright has been in regular contact with him, and that since her first indictment she knew that additional charges may be coming. He also said that since June, she has worked at the KFC/Taco Bell on King Street, where she was promoted to shift lead manager and makes $11 an hour working 40 hours a week.

“She’s been working hard,” he said.

He also noted her history in the community, including that she was a 2014 graduate of Northampton High School, and that she lives with and pays rent to her parents.

“She doesn’t have the ability to flee,” he said.

Chamblerand asked that Diaz-Wright be released on her own recognizance, with conditions. The conditions set for Diaz-Wright’s bail, which were not contested, included GPS monitoring, including an exclusion zone around the Meadowbrook Apartments, a 9 p.m.-to-7 a.m. curfew, and no contact with witnesses, other co-defendants and Cruz’s family.

Judge Carey imposed a bail of $10,000 personal surety, a form of bail that does not require the posting of any cash by the defendant. Before she was led away, Diaz-Wright broke down in tears.

Her next scheduled court appearance is Dec. 14.

Perez was arraigned Tuesday on accessory after the fact to murder, burning personal property, withholding evidence from a criminal proceeding, two counts of conspiracy, and improper disposition of a human body. She was released on her own recognizance, with conditions similar to Diaz-Wright, albeit with a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew. Her next court date is Dec. 17.

Ross, meanwhile was arraigned on accessory after the fact to murder. He was released on his own recognizance with similar conditions to the other defendants. His next court appearance is Feb. 12.

All three defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. No court date has been set for the other four defendants in custody.

Deadly argument

The commonwealth alleges Morales shot Cruz three times at the Meadowbrook Apartments, killing him, and that the argument also involved Soto-Rodriguez. Morales and Soto-Rodriguez allegedly involved a group of others who helped to clean up the blood, dispose of Morales’ clothes, dispose of the murder weapon and hide Cruz’s body, according to prosecutors. A group of people then drove Cruz’s body out to a field in Hatfield and set it on fire, prosecutors say.

According to his death certificate, Cruz died from gunshot wounds to the torso and neck. “Thermal injuries” were listed as contributing factors, but did not cause his death.

Suhl said she believed that the last time someone was charged with murder in Northampton was Anthony Baye, who pleaded guilty to lesser charges in 2013. Baye set fires from 2007 to 2009 in the city, including a fatal fire in 2009 that claimed the lives of Paul Yeskie Sr. and Paul Yeskie Jr.

Suhl said Morales, Soto-Rodriguez and Cruz were all known to one another. Morales and Soto-Rodriguez are alleged to have been part of a gang, although Suhl said that isn’t necessarily an element in the prosecution’s case. She also said that the fatal altercation allegedly started between Soto-Rodriguez and Cruz, before Morales intervened with a firearm.

 Bera Dunau can be reach ed at bdunau@gazettenet.com.