Attorney for suspect in Latino man’s murder says detective misidentified client
The two men who beat Julio Cesar Cruz Cruz to death in February 2014 during a robbery wore a green jacket and a black jacket, witnesses told police.
A detective said the witnesses were partially right.
The clothing was a critical point of contention at a pretrial hearing Wednesday for Michael Holman, one of the men who was arrested and charged with Cruz’s murder.
Dante Martin is also charged for his role in the fatal beating. The men have rejected plea offers from prosecutors and may go to trial.
Holman’s attorney, Jack Furlong, has challenged on several constitutional grounds whether a statement his client gave police is admissible at trial.
Prosecutors said Holman’s own words, admitting he was in the area of the murder, are incriminating and they want jurors to hear that at trial.
A judge listened to testimony most of Wednesday but has not ruled on the matter and will issue a written decision in the future.
Jason Snyder, a detective with the Mercer County Homicide Task Force, testified that the face of a man who resembled Holman was captured “pretty good” on surveillance purchasing Newport cigarettes at Fernandez Supermarket on Whittaker Avenue about 30 minutes before the murder on Rusling Street, which is blocks away from the grocery mart.
He said the man depicted in the tape is Holman, wearing a tan Carhartt jacket, blue jeans with distinctive stitching on the back left pocket and tan Timberland boots.
That is the man the detective identified and traced using a patchwork of surveillance tapes as the individual who ran away from Rusling Street after the murder.
“We have a face but we don’t have a name,” Snyder said.
Snyder said he saw a man wearing the same clothing walking through Chambersburg about two weeks later.
The detective’s testimony contradicted the description Cruz’s housemates gave of the suspects.
The housemates said they saw the men beat Cruz, and chased them through the city streets.
The suspects broke off in opposite direction while fleeing.
The four witnesses were interviewed by police and each said the suspects wore green and black jackets.
“If wearing a Carhartt jacket is a crime there’s an awful lot of felons walking around Trenton,” Furlong said.
Snyder grew frustrated under cross examination and didn’t explain the discrepancy or himself well at certain points.
He had Furlong bearing down on him about whether he had probable cause to arrest Holman and charge him with murder.
Cruz returned home around 6:40 p.m. Feb. 15, 2014, when he was jumped, beaten and robbed, prosecutors said, in a murder that outraged the Latino community in Trenton.
Snyder received a call from an anonymous woman who passed along information about someone nicknamed B.I.– Borne Intelligence – who robbed crackheads, prostitutes and Guatemalans in Chambersburg.
Police gathered surveillance from nearby businesses and used the footage to try to identify suspects and track people who were in the neighborhood at the time of the murder.
Before arresting and charging two men, police identified suspects other than Holman and Martin early in the investigation.
The initial suspects’ names were mentioned in court, but The Trentonian is withholding them because they were never charged with Cruz’s murder.
Witnesses identified the men after scouring through mug shot books containing 2,000 photos.
Snyder wrote in his report that one of the men “bore a striking resemblance” to the man on the supermarket video.
The man who was picked out was not Holman.
“You recognize identification is a chancy business,” Furlong said.
The detective agreed.
Snyder said he went looking for one of the initial suspects at a warehouse in Piscataway, where the man worked.
While there, he noticed employees in Carthartt jackets and tan work boots.
Snyder frisked, handcuffed, transported the man to a police station. He had the man’s truck towed for safe-keeping, he said, to preserve evidence. Snyder later interrogated the man.
He didn’t stop interrogating him after the suspect told him he was tired of talking.
Snyder also interrogated a second man who was a suspect.
The suspect was represented by Arun Levine and asked to have her present for the interrogation.
Coincidentally, that turned out to be the same defense attorney who would represent Martin.
Snyder admitted he started the interview before Levine arrived.
“Why are you interviewing him without his lawyer?” Furlong asked.
The detective said the suspect waived his Miranda rights before Levine got there.
“He didn’t mind talking to us, but he didn’t want to be fingerprinted,” Snyder said.
The men were cleared.
“We were back to square one,” Snyder said.
‘I was 100 percent’
Snyner and another detective went to delis in Chambersburg with suspect photos.
About two weeks after the murder, Snyder and a partner patrolled Chambersburg and spotted Holman wearing the exact same clothes as the man in the grocery mart.
Snyder said the face and clothing of the man from the supermarket was burned into his memory after watching the surveillance about 200 to 300 times over two weeks. He said he immediately recognized him as Holman on the street.
“I saw his face, and he looked exactly like who I had been looking at,” Snyder said. “I was 100 percent positive.”
If that was the case, Furlong wanted to know why the detective originally thought the initial suspect he interrogated was the man from the grocery mart.
“We don’t just arrest people based off looks,” Snyder said.
“Isn’t that what you did with Michael Holman?” Furlong said.
Holman was interrogated twice on Feb. 26, 2014, the first time around 9:30 p.m. after he waived his Miranda rights.
Snyder told Holman he had information that he was involved with an “accident” in Chambersburg.
Furlong told the detective he lied to his client because he knew what happened to Cruz wasn’t an accident.
“I didn’t lie to him,” Snyder said. “He may have been able to provide an explanation. Maybe it wasn’t murder. I don’t want to be like, ‘You murdered him.’ It could have been accident. It could have been murder. It could have been something fell outside of the sky and [Holman] was standing there.”
The interview ended when Holman told detectives he was on juvenile probation, had an ankle bracelet that monitored his whereabouts and asked police to verify that with his probation officer and attorney.
“My curfew is 7,” Holman said. “I’m usually home or with my daughter. I don’t really get into nothing.”
After the first interview ended, Snyder met with supervisors to decide whether to charge Holman.
A crime scene detective was called in to collect Holman’s clothes.
What happened next is in question.
Detective Sgt. Christopher Doyle emerged from the interview room and told Snyder that Holman asked to speak a second time.
The exchange between Doyle and Holman was not caught on tape, which is why Furlong has challenged whether the second statement was voluntary.
During the second interview, Holman admitted being near the murder scene, prosecutors said.
The hearing resumes in August.