General Crime

* Ben Ray Cruz Gets 15 Years to Life for Murder of Debra Abbey

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A 26-year-old Hayward man has been sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison for fatally shooting a Fremont woman on the doorstep of her cottage in 2004. Prosecutor Brian Owens said the Jan. 9, 2004, incident began when 49-year-old Debra Abbey saw Ben Ray Cruz and several associates stripping parts from a stolen vehicle in front of her cottage in the 35000 block of Mission Boulevard and she yelled at them to leave. Owens said Cruz, who was 17 at the time, and the other men left but Cruz came back a short time later, knocked on Abbey’s door and shot her three times after she opened the door.

Abbey, who had worked as a custodian for the Fremont Unified School District for 17 years, was pronounced dead at the scene. Owens said the case remained unsolved until 2008, when a friend told police that Cruz admitted to him that he had fatally shot Abbey. However, a judge ruled that Cruz was mentally incompetent to stand trial, partly because of his abuse of methamphetamine, Owens said. But after Cruz received treatment at a mental hospital he was later found to be competent to stand trial.

Cruz then pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and was set to stand trial last month but pleaded no contest to second-degree murder just before the trial began, Owens said. He was sentenced by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson on Thursday. Cruz’s lawyer, Barbara Thomas, couldn’t be reached for comment today.

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