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What you need to know for 07/26/2017

Cruz guilty of murder in police chase

Cruz guilty of murder in police chase

Pablo Cruz, the Schenectady man accused of striking a bicyclist during a police chase and continuing
Cruz guilty of murder in police chase
Pablo Cruz

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of commensurate.

ALBANY - Pablo Cruz, the Schenectady man accused of striking a bicyclist during a police chase and continuing the chase with the man’s body lodged on his ladder rack, was found guilty of murder Wednesday in Albany County Court.

There was no audible reaction to the verdict in a courtroom filled with people, including family of the victim, Paul Merges Jr.

The jury found Cruz acted with depraved indifference to human life in striking Merges at a high rate of speed as he was being chased by a police officer, then continuing the chase for another 20 minutes with Merges’ body on his truck.

Outside the courtroom, Merges’ brother Gene spoke for the family. He called Cruz a dangerous criminal who has shown no remorse for his actions.

“There is truly no level of justice which can be imposed upon Mr. Cruz which would be commensurate with the pain, suffering and death which was inflicted on my brother,” Merges said.

Cruz, 41, is to be sentenced Sept. 25 in Albany County Court. He faces up to 25 years to life in prison on the murder charge alone.

Cruz was speeding from a traffic stop early on the morning of Nov. 24, 2012, in Albany when he struck Paul Merges Jr. Merges’ lifeless body wasn’t recovered until 20 minutes later, when Cruz’s truck came to an abrupt stop in Rotterdam due to damage from the collision with the bike.

Prosecutor Mary Tanner-Richter of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office praised the jury for the time it spent on the case. The jury got the case briefly Tuesday afternoon. The verdict came in Wednesday afternoon.

“The jury spent a lot of time evaluating everything, and I think they came to the right decision,” Tanner-Richter said. “I think there’s finally going to be closure for this family.”

Cruz’s attorney, Michael Feit, argued afterward there were multiple grounds for appeal, including that an acquittal on a single reckless endangerment count meant the verdict was inconsistent.

Tanner-Richter’s job at trial was to argue the elements of the case against Cruz rose to the level of murder under the theory of depraved indifference to human life. That theory did not require Cruz to intend to cause Merges’ death, but that he acted without care for human life in causing Merges’ death.

The prosecutor said that case was made with the totality of Cruz’s actions.

“You had to look at the whole picture,” she said. “If you look at one snapshot in time, you’re not going to get it. But, if you put it all together — I’ve never seen conduct quite like this in my years of doing this.”

The jury could have chosen lesser manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide counts.

In all, Cruz was found guilty of second-degree murder, second-degree vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident without reporting, unlawfully fleeing a police officer, first-degree reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

He was acquitted of one other count of felony reckless endangerment, related to the chase prior to the impact. Feit questioned whether that acquittal was consistent with the rest of the verdict. He said he made a motion at the bench to that effect, preserving the issue for appeal.

“I think there are quite a few issues for appeal,” Feit said. “This was an unusual case. The circumstances were unusual.”

Particularly, he said, there are issues with the capacity of his client to assist in his own defense. There was a ruling prior to trial that he was competent to stand trial, but Feit noted Cruz testified in his own defense and denied everything, including being the driver and even being in the hospital.

On certain levels, Feit said Cruz understood the nature of the charges and who everyone was. But there was another part of that test, whether he could assist in his defense.

“With respect to that, my position has been that he was not capable of doing that, and that was borne out by his decision to testify over my objection,” Feit said.

For Merges’ family, they are glad Cruz will remain in custody for a long time, Gene Merges said.

“He’ll go back to jail for probably a good portion of the remainder of his life,” Merges said. “Us, on the other hand, we will go to the cemetery to see my brother.”

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