Northampton man gets 7-8 years in 2018 slaying, burning of body

  • Arraignment of Pedro Soto-Rodriguez for charges related to the murder of Daniel Cruz in Hampshire Superior Court Friday, January 11, 2019.

  • Arraignment of Pedro Soto-Rodriguez for charges related to the murder of Daniel Cruz in Hampshire Superior Court Friday, January 11, 2019.

Staff Writer
Published: 2/29/2020 5:51:53 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A city man was sentenced to seven to eight years in state prison Friday after he admitted covering up the killing of Daniel Cruz by helping to burn his body after he was killed at Meadowbrook Apartments in 2018.

Pedro Soto-Rodriguez, 22, pleaded guilty in Hampshire Superior Court to charges of accessory after the fact to murder, burning personal property, two counts of withholding evidence from a criminal proceeding, two counts of conspiracy, improper disposition of a human body and intimidation of a witness.

Judge Richard Carey sentenced Soto-Rodriguez to the seven- to eight-year term on one of the charges of withholding evidence from a criminal proceeding. He was separately sentenced on each of the remaining charges, but those sentences will run concurrently with the longer sentence. He will begin serving this sentence after he completes another sentence from two previous cases that will end in 2022. 

Soto-Rodriguez is one of nine people indicted by a grand jury in the killing of 44-year-old Cruz, a city resident who prosecutors say was shot three times by Nerkin Omar Morales, of Northampton. Soto-Rodriguez’s attorney, Jeanne Liddy, contended that Cruz had attacked Soto-Rodriguez before his death, and asked the judge for a sentence of three to four years in state prison. One person previously indicted, Joshua Ealy, was found incompetent to stand trial and his charge of perjury was dropped, according to prosecutors.

In court, Northwestern Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Suhl described the days surrounding Cruz’s death, and while she said Soto-Rodriguez did not kill Cruz, he helped cover it up.

Suhl said that on March 9, 2018, the day before Cruz’s death, the victim’s cousin, Luis Dellarosa, went to Soto-Rodriguez’s residence at Meadowbrook to find Morales, who owed Dellarosa $500.

Morales was not at the apartment when Cruz, Dellarosa and another person arrived, but Soto-Rodriguez was, Suhl said. As the three left, Soto-Rodriguez yelled out the window to Cruz, “You walking funny n-----?” according to Suhl. A yelling match ensued.

According to Suhl, Soto-Rodriguez texted Morales about what had happened and stated: “I want to shoot so bad.” At 8 a.m. on March 10, Morales and Alondra E. Gil drove from Chicopee to the apartment complex. When Gil dropped Morales off at Soto-Rodriguez’s apartment, Suhl said, Cruz was waiting in a hallway. 

Morales told Soto-Rodriguez that Cruz was waiting for him outside, Suhl said, and Cruz ended up cutting Soto-Rodriguez with a knife during their interaction in the hallway. Soto-Rodriguez yelled out to Morales, who came out of the apartment and allegedly shot Cruz three times, prosecutors said.

After Cruz was dead, Soto-Rodriguez and Morales left Cruz’s body in Soto-Rodriguez’s bedroom and ran from the apartment, Suhl said. Morales, Gil and Soto-Rodriguez then went to Chelsea T. Rodriguez’s apartment and told friends what had happened. Soon after, the now 10-person group decided to return to the apartment and Soto-Rodriguez and others wrapped Cruz’s body in a sleeping bag, Suhl said.

“While his wrapped body was lying on the floor, the defendant and others smoked a marijuana joint over his body while repeatedly kicking his body on the floor,” Suhl said. “While doing so the defendant made statements like ‘You shouldn’t have come here.’”

The group then put Cruz’s body into Soto-Rodriguez’s closet cleaned up the scene of the crime, the prosecutor said. Soto-Rodriguez told a person only referred to as “LP,” who was in the apartment at the time, not to call the police, leading prosecutors to charge him with witness intimidation.

Seven people from the group then went to Soto-Rodriguez’s mother’s home in Connecticut, where the group decided to cut up Cruz’s body with machetes to dispose of it, Suhl said. When they got back to the apartment, the group abandoned the idea to use the machetes they had bought.

Instead, they wrapped Cruz’s body with black trash bags, then took his body to a field in Hatfield and lit it on fire. Soto-Rodriguez drove the lead car, Suhl said.

The group then rented a hotel room in West Springfield to stay out of Meadowbrook and party, Suhl said. Two weeks later, Soto-Rodriguez was arrested on I-91, according to Suhl.

When asked by Carey if the facts Suhl gave in court were true, Soto-Rodriguez said, “As they apply to myself, yes, your honor.”

Suhl asked Carey to sentence Soto-Rodriguez to eight to 10 years in state prison, longer than the sentencing guidelines, because of the other felony charges Soto-Rodriguez would serve at the same time.

She read part of a victim impact statement written by Cruz’s mother, in which she wrote, “What hurts the most is the way my son’s body was disposed of — like he was trash.”

Suhl said no one will ever know why Cruz went to Soto-Rodriguez’s apartment in the first place and indicated that Soto-Rodriguez’s version of the story may be untruthful. She said the only significant injury the state uncovered was on Soto-Rodriguez’s arm, and that Soto-Rodriguez was one of the leaders of the cover-up.

Liddy asked Carey to sentence Soto-Rodriguez to three to four years in state prison to be served concurrently with the rest of the charges and his current sentence, partly because, she argued, Soto-Rodriguez had been threatened by Cruz armed with a weapon. Liddy also showed Carey the scars on Soto-Rodriguez’s body.

“When he was fearing for his life and bleeding, he was shocked, he was in panic,” Liddy said of Soto-Rodriguez.

Liddy said Soto-Rodriguez has a 4-year-old daughter and that he has a “solid work history as well.” She said he is a graduate of Northampton High School and hopes to go to college after he gets out of jail. Liddy said his criminal record wasn’t as extensive as Suhl made it out to be.

“Given his desire to improve his lot in life … as well as the victim being the initiator and aggressor, I would suggest three to four years is appropriate,” she said.

Suhl called Liddy’s sentencing request “completely out of line with the facts of this case.” She said the major act committed by Soto-Rodriguez was the burning of Cruz’s body in an attempt to eliminate the most significant piece of evidence in a homicide case.

Charges against the other co-defendants, including Morales, are still pending, Suhl said.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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