Albuquerque man sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing of 4-year-old

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A judge sentenced Zerrick Marquez to 30 years in prison for the murder of James Dunklee Cruz in 2019.

At four years old, James was brutally beaten to death. Marquez, a friend of James’ mother, pleaded guilty to causing James’ death. Marquez told investigators he fell on James, but his story and James’ injuries did not add up.

Marquez’s two-year-old daughter told investigators what actually happened.

On Thursday, Marquez watched but never reacted to testimony by extended family and first responders.

In exchange for pleading guilty, Marquez agreed to spend life behind bars. Judge Stan Whitaker had choice words for him, but also the agency that was supposed to protect James – after learning CYFD had 13 referrals and nine investigations throughout his very short life.

“We are seeing too much of this, too much of CYFD going in and seeing folks, seeing children in situations where probably kids should be taken out, and we just don’t have that happening,” Whitaker said. “As a result, we see way too many children being brutalized and abused and ultimately killed. I don’t have any words for it.”

James’ own mother and her best friend are also facing child abuse charges. As for Marquez, he did not speak at the sentencing. His attorney mentioned plans to appeal a recent motion – the judge denied – to withdraw his plea deal.