By Connor Adams Sheets
The Jackson Heights man accused of sexually assaulting and brutally killing a new Chinese immigrant in a downtown Flushing alleyway pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday afternoon.
Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard L. Buchter agreed to sentence Carlos Salazar Cruz, 29, to 22 years to life in prison in exchange for his admission that he beat Yu Yao, 23, to death with a pipe in May in a vicious, unprovoked attack.
Michael Chu, leader of the Flushing Neighborhood Watch Team, which was started two weeks after Yu’s death in her honor and has sent members to each of Cruz’s court appearances, spoke to her mother, Guiha Yu — who was in China — via telephone twice Tuesday, both before and after Cruz entered his plea. Chu said she cried inconsolably when they contacted her after the appearance but that she had some comments earlier that morning.
“Me and my father feel so devastated we would rather die than live,” Chu said she told him in Chinese. “They’re just living in hell right now. They feel like they died with her. Their family is torn apart.”
Assistant District Attorney Eric Rosenbaum, chief of the Queens DA’s DNA Prosecutions Unit, told Buchter in court that Guiha Yu wanted the death sentence for Cruz but it was not an option in this case, so she was at least pleased to hear he would be getting one of the harshest possible sentences available.
“We explained that this sentence is very close to the maximum. She expressed a measure of comfort knowing that the case would be over and the defendant will be held responsible for his actions,” Rosenbaum said. “With the severity of the sentencing, we believe justice has been served from all directions in this case.”
Buchter agreed that “the crime is deserving of the death penalty,” but reiterated that such a sentence was not available to him. Buchter said he plans to officially sentence Cruz to the agreed-upon 22 years to life in prison March 28 and that if Cruz, an illegal Mexican immigrant, ever gets out of jail, he will be deported immediately.
Because Cruz only admitted beating Yu to death, he avoided a graphic detailing of the alleged sexual aspect of his crime.
“We started to fight and during the fight I hit her, causing her injury that caused her death,” Cruz said through a translator in court Monday. Buchter asked him to clarify that she only fought him for self-defense, and Cruz amended his story, adding, “I was forcing her, there was not a fight, I was forcing her.”
Yu Yao had only been in the United States for two months at the time of her murder and she had found a home on Maple Avenue just 20 days before she died, according to police.
She was walking with groceries along the 133 block of 41st Road in downtown Flushing at about 9:10 p.m. May 16 when Cruz struck her in the head with a pipe and dragged her by her hair into a nearby alleyway, removed her clothing from the waist down, raped her with the metal pipe and beat her to death, according to court papers. She was in a coma in the initial days after the attack, but was removed from life support May 21, state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said.ï»¿
A man who reported the crime called first at 9:27 p.m., then at least once more, according to police, who said a short foot pursuit took place before Cruz, who has no criminal record, was arrested. The pipe was recovered a block from the alley, police said.
Police said Cruz was so drunk at the time of his arrest he did not even know how he got to Main Street and Meng said police told her he had to be taken to the hospital and handcuffed to a bed until he sobered up. Police eventually booked Cruz at 2 p.m. Monday, according to court papers.
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.