Third person sentenced in beating death of 4-year-old boy
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pamela Esparza, who is the third suspect charged in the death of 4-year-old James Dunklee Cruz, was sentenced to 13 years in prison Thursday.
James died in 2019 after prosecutors said he suffered extensive abuse at the hands of his mother, Krista Cruz, and her friends, Esparza and Zerrick Marquez.
Marquez was sentenced to life in prison for killing James.
“I know that she wasn’t the one, Ms. Esparza isn’t the one who killed James, but when you harm a child and hit them and hurt them and let them be abused in front of you, your inaction is action,” said Savannah Skye Brandenburg-Koch, state prosecutor.
The state asked for the maximum sentence under Esparza’s plea deal – 18 years. Prosecutors say Esparza lied to CYFD about James living with them and knew about the abuse.
Esparza’s lawyer said she was in an abusive relationship with Marquez at the time and blames CYFD.
“I am asking the court to please take mercy on Ms. Esparza,” said Marie Legrand Miller, defense attorney. “One thing we can agree about here is that the system completely and utterly failed James Dunklee.”
Esparza herself also spoke at the sentencing hearing.
“I want to be accountable to my own role as a protector and guardian of James. I want you all to know I never meant for this to happen but it did,” Esparza said. “I know the passing of James has a ripple effect in my community and the broader community I live in due to the loss of a precious life.”
Judge Stan Whitaker asked where her tears were for James. He said she had the power to save him and did nothing.
“I don’t know that on my years sitting on the bench I’ve heard this kind of carnage or a case that’s worse than this,” Judge Whitaker said.
Whitaker sentenced Esparza to 13 years in prison and five years probation, saying anything else would be a slap on the face to James.
Esparza will turn herself in next Friday.
James’ mom, Krista Cruz, is scheduled to be sentenced in early December. She also took a plea deal and is facing up to 22 years in prison.