A prison inmate was granted parole Tuesday from a life sentence for killing an 18-year-old woman on a Lancaster city playground in 1992.
Ricardo Cruz was 13 when he shot and killed Debbie Rivera at Carter MacRae Elementary School on March 9, 1992. He was convicted at trial of first-degree murder and sentenced to a life-without-parole sentence.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed life sentences against juveniles “unconstitutional” prompted the resentencing of Cruz – and 11 other inmates serving life terms for killings they committed as juveniles in Lancaster County.
Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker on Tuesday ordered a 25-year-to-life sentence on the first-degree murder charge and a 10-to-20-year sentence on an attached conspiracy charge, to be served concurrently.
Cruz, now 39 and an inmate at a state prison in Somerset County, is expected to be released after a hearing with a parole board.
Assistant District Attorney Travis S. Anderson asked for a 35-year-to-life sentence, saying Cruz - unlike some other juvenile lifers who will be up for resentencing – was the key participant in murder.
“Mr. Cruz armed himself and set out with an expressed purpose of killing someone,” Anderson said, noting Cruz fired into a playground occupied by young individuals.
Anderson told the judge Rivera’s family declined to appear at Tuesday’s hearing because the preceding would cause too much pain.
“Debbie Rivera is still missed, she is still loved and she is still mourned,” Anderson said.
President Judge Reinaker pointed to testimony Tuesday from five correctional officers who characterized Cruz as a “model inmate” who had only one violence-related misconduct in his 25½ years in prison.
Cruz, on the witness stand, apologized to the Rivera family, saying he was “friends” with Debbie and that his actions were “stupid,” “reckless” and “impulsive.”
“We understand the law has changed and did all we could,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said after the hearing. “From a victim perspective, there certainly is a sense of extreme unfairness in all of these cases, and there is no doubt the results in many are going to be extremely difficult to swallow.”
Cruz sought out a rival at Carter MacRae Elementary School and opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun. Rivera was struck in the head and died at the playground.
Under new sentencing parameters, the state Supreme Court presents a guideline minimum sentence of 25 years for offenders who committed first-degree murder at Cruz’s age.
“Debbie Rivera does not have any appellate rights and her sentence is permanent. Her life was taken and her family will serve their own sentence as well with no second chances,” Stedman said. “When he gets out, I certainly hope Mr. Cruz never forgets his crime and his victim.”
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