Man accused of killing a 4-year-old agrees to life sentence
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is finally some justice for a little boy who was beaten to death in 2019. As part of a plea deal, Zerrick Marquez will spend life in prison for killing 4-year-old James Dunklee Cruz.
Attorneys are going up against the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department, claiming the department had the chance to save James. New lapel video is showing a when and how CYFD could have intervened just two months before his death.
The video shows APD and CYFD responding to an urgent care in October 2019, where they met Krista Cruz and her son James. James had showed up with injuries to his arm, his private area, and numerous other areas. It took a crime scene investigator around 14 minutes to document all of the injuries.
A health care professional expressed concern of possible abuse. They told APD and CYFD that James had disclosed sexual abuse.
Attorneys representing Dunklee Cruz said numerous, so-called, "accidents" are well documented over the course of his very short life. Rachel Berenson, Alex Crecca and Sara Crecca have filed a wrongful death suit against CYFD and those case workers.
“They had that golden opportunity at the Duke City Urgent Care call out in October and yet they left him in the care of his mom and she repeatedly left him in the care of abusers his entire life and the department knew that,” said Sara Crecca, with The Crecca Law Firm.
Crecca said what comes next, makes that missed opportunity more devastating.
Just two months later, in December 2019, police were called to the Cinnamon Tree Apartments in Albuquerque. James was unresponsive.
Zerrick Marquez was watching James at the time. He told first responders he tripped and fell on the boy, who passed out and stopped breathing. He told first responders he had waited about 30 minutes to call for help.
The story didn’t add up, according to first responders. The injuries were so extensive KOB 4 can’t show them. On Thursday, Marquez pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death, agreeing to life in prison – but attorneys said CYFD is just as guilty.
“We have CYFD not accepting responsibility for blatant failures to protect this child and other children,” said Alex Crecca with The Crecca Law Firm. That they have an obligation to protect and that they are woefully inadequate and grossly failing.”
CYFD released a fatality report on James just last month, detailing a number of allegations brought to the department’s attention before his death in 2019.
KOB 4 asked if and how things have changed within the department since then but did not hear back from the department.
Marquez’s fiancé, Pamela Esparza, and James’ mother, Krista Cruz, are also facing charges.