Man sentenced to death a second time for kidnapping and killing Deltona man in 2013

·4 min read

A judge this week again sentenced a man to death for beating, kidnapping and killing a Deltona man who was wrongly targeted during a robbery.

The re-sentencing occurred after the Florida Supreme Court struck down the first death sentence against Cristian E. Cruz, now 28.

Christian Cruz during his trial in 2019. Photo by David Tucker.
Christian Cruz during his trial in 2019. Photo by David Tucker.

Cruz and Justen Charles were both convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in the killing of 25-year-old Christopher Jemery in 2013.

On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano again sentenced Cruz to death.

Cruz and Charles, who is now 32, were tried separately in 2019. Both were convicted and Zambrano presided over both trials. Two different juries heard virtually the same cases. Charles’ jury recommended life; Cruz’s jury recommended death.

Zambrano sentenced Cruz to death. But the judge had no choice in Charles’ case because a judge cannot override a jury’s recommendation of life.

Dig a little deeper: Florida Supreme Court strikes down death sentence in Deltona man's murder

The Florida Supreme Court, in striking down the death sentence for Cruz, ruled there were insufficient facts to support the jurors’ finding that Cruz was the shooter. The court also stated that in sentencing Cruz to death, Zambrano relied on evidence in Charles trial, including a statement from Charles' girlfriend who said she had seen Cruz with a .22-caliber gun.

The Supreme Court allowed the conviction and death recommendation to stand but ordered a new sentencing.

In a motion asking that Cruz be sentenced to life, his attorneys focused on the lack of evidence that he was the shooter. Defense attorneys Clyde M. Taylor Jr. and Clyde M. Taylor III quoted the Florida Supreme Court order which stated "However, there is no competent, substantial evidence presented in Cruz's trial to support the jury's finding Cruz was the shooter."

According to prosecutors, Cruz and Charles planned to rob a small-time drug dealer. That's who they apparently expected to find on April 26, 2013 when they burst into a unit at the Belltower Apartments in Deltona. They instead found Jemery, who had been staying in the apartment but had nothing to do with illegal drugs.

The first time: Killer in Deltona kidnapping, murder sentenced to death

Cruz and Charles beat Jemery, leaving a pool of blood with their shoe prints in the apartment. They then bound Jemery with wire and duct tape, tossed him in the trunk of his car and drove him to an industrial park in Sanford. Next to some brush beyond a parking lot, someone used a .22-caliber pistol to shoot Jemery in the head.

Jemery was barely alive when he was found, and later died. Investigators also found one of Cruz's fingerprints on the duct tape used to bind Jemery.

In his new sentencing order issued Tuesday, Zambrano cited the terror Jemery must have experience before his execution..

“Furthermore, he must have been alive and conscious when he was gagged and bound and kidnapped from the home. Sheer terror must have filled his mind knowing that he had been taken to a strange location — in what only can be described as the killing field," Zambrano wrote.

Zambrano wrote in his order that he was not finding that Cruz was the shooter. But he wrote it didn’t matter because Cruz was a major participant in a felony that resulted in a murder, even if he was not the actual triggerman.

The evidence suggests that Charles was the planner and Charles and Cruz participated equally in the execution of the plan, Zambrano wrote.

Jemery was the father of a young child with his high school girlfriend. Jemery had asked the girlfriend not to stay in the apartment with their child because he was concerned about the people loitering in the area, Zambrano wrote. So the mother and child were staying at her parent’s house the night of the attack.

Jemery had injuries to his torso and cuts, bruises and or lacerations to eyes, ear, top of his head and a gunshot wound on the side of his head, Zambrano wrote. One of his hands had what appeared to be a broken finger. His wrist had tape residue from being bound with duct tape. Wire was also used to restrain him.

According to prosecutors, one of the aggravating circumstances presented to the jury was that Cruz was previously convicted of a felony that was actually committed just after Jemery was killed. That crime, Zambrano wrote, occurred “mere days” after Jemery's killing when Cruz and Charles, each armed with handguns, burst into a Hungry Howie’s in Seminole County and robbed the staff.

One of the young female employees was dragged by her hair across the floor during that robbery, and security video showed Cruz pistol-whipping the store's manager.

“He seems awfully comfortable in committing the crime. His treatment of the victims is shocking and appalling, demonstrating a total disregard for human decency,” Zambrano wrote.

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Man sentenced to death again for Deltona kidnapping and killing

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