Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Teen found guilty

He 'needs to pay' for stabbing, victim's mother says Kelvin De La Cruz is convicted of 2nd-degree murder in the fatal fight at University High.

Sarah Lundy
Sentinel Staff Writer
April 25, 2007

Carmen Salicrup closed her eyes Tuesday afternoon as the verdict against her 15-year-old son's killer was read: guilty of second-degree murder.

For five days, the heartbroken mother listened as University High classmates, teachers and homicide investigators described how Kelvin De La Cruz, 17, plunged a knife into her son, Michael Nieves, on Oct. 19 at the school's bus loop.

It hurt to hear the details. Michael suffered seven stab wounds. Others saw De La Cruz with the knife moments before the fight. Nobody warned her son that his opponent was armed.

Then came the waiting.The 12 jurors began deliberating at 4 p.m. Monday. After five hours, they asked to go home for the night. The group returned at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday to hash out the teenager's guilt.

Salicrup waited outside the courtroom with her husband, Ismael Nieves, and dozens of friends and family. Some of Michael's friends and his two sisters -- who attended most of the trial -- returned to school Tuesday. They continued to call and text-message for updates from those at the courthouse.This just proves, Salicrup said, how much Michael was loved.

"People who don't even know us come up to tell me that they are praying for us," Salicrup said Tuesday morning with tissues in her lap for her occasional tears.

She cries for De La Cruz's mother, Maria Ramirez, too.

Like Salicrup, Ramirez attended most of the trial with her daughter and De La Cruz's older sister, Claribel Ramirez. They weren't there for the verdict Tuesday.

Salicrup knows Ramirez has lost her son, too. But in a different way."He needs to pay for what he's done," Salicrup said before jurors made their decision.

Prosecutors wanted De La Cruz to be convicted of first-degree murder, in which the only possible sentence is life in prison. In addition to second-degree murder, the jury could have opted for manslaughter.

After a total of eight hours, the jury returned with the second-degree murder verdict. Now, De La Cruz could face up to life in prison. Orange Circuit Court Judge Marc Lubet set the teenager's sentencing for June 15.

De La Cruz's attorneys -- David Chico, Kelvin Soto and Charlie Tiffany -- left the courtroom first. They said they were relieved he wasn't convicted of first-degree murder."I'm happy with that," Chico said.Salicrup was too distraught to say anything to the reporters and TV cameras crowded at the courtroom door. Her husband and loved ones helped her to the elevator.

Prosecutors Ken Lewis and Ryan Vescio left the courtroom last."I am very satisfied," Lewis said.

"I hope this sends a bigger message to students in Orange County in general who feel they are attracted to this lifestyle of thuggery."

Sarah Lundy can be reached at or 407-420-6218.

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