FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) – A television show that featured the nearly two-decade-old killing of an Arizona teenager and her unborn baby helped lead to the arrest of her ex-boyfriend, police said Wednesday.
Cecilio Cruz is charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Police in the city of Cottonwood, about 100 miles north of Phoenix, said Cruz fatally shot 17-year-old Marisol Gonzalez in the face on March 25, 1997.
Cruz, 34, long had been suspected in Gonzalez's death, Cottonwood police Sgt. Tod Moore said. The two dated in high school, and she found out that she was pregnant with his child after they broke up. Her body was found in an alley near her Cottonwood home the same day she was scheduled to be induced to deliver the baby boy she named Andrew, Moore said.
Moore took a keen interest in the case — the only cold case within the department. A promotion freed him up in 2008 to scour boxes of material from the case, looking for anything that police could have missed. He later responded to a request from TNT's "Cold Justice" for ideas on cases to feature on the show. The episode, titled "First Love," aired in February.
An investigative team from the show came to Cottonwood last October and helped review dozens of leads and conduct interviews so that the case could be presented to a grand jury, Moore said. Cruz was indicted last week.
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"Most of the evidence we've always had. But we couldn't put it together," Moore said.
Kelly Siegler, a former prosecutor who helps solve cases on "Cold Justice," said the persistence of Moore and Cottonwood Police Chief Jody Fanning, who was assigned to the case in 1997, paid off. She said prosecutors and police have "our complete respect and support and prayers as they continue to seek justice."
Cruz and his family moved to Tucson about a week after Gonzalez was killed. Cottonwood police investigated her death for about two years before the leads dried up, Moore said.
Authorities said they believe Cruz and Gonzalez were arguing about the pregnancy and his involvement with other girls on the night she was killed. Moore said one of Cruz's cousins told police and others that he saw Cruz and Gonzalez walking together around the alley but later recanted the statement.
Others who once feared for their safety have come forward with information to police only recently, Moore said.
Police have no DNA directly tying Cruz to the crime, nor did they find what they believe was a small-caliber gun, Moore said. Despite that, he said he believes the circumstantial case is solid.
Cruz bonded out of the Pima County jail on Wednesday, a day after his arrest at a funeral home and cemetery in Tucson where he worked, the sheriff's office said. Gonzalez's family said they were relieved to hear of his arrest but upset to know he's out of jail.
Cruz invoked his right to remain silent, Moore said. Authorities did not know whether he had an attorney, and possible phone numbers for Cruz went unanswered Wednesday.
Johanora Gonzalez said her younger sister was looking forward to having a baby and had plans to become a preschool teacher. The family sometimes gathers at the cemetery on her birthday and leaves flowers in remembrance.
She said Cruz lived near the family in Cottonwood and he and Marisol Gonzalez often would meet up in the alley. When word came of her killing, she said the family immediately thought of Cruz.
"That night, my sister was waiting for his phone call," she said. "So who else can it be?"