A year and a half after Visalia California Highway Patrol officer Jesus “Jesse” Magdaleno Jr., 33, and his brother-in-law Felix Brandon Cruz III, 31, died in a Las Vegas carjacking, the man who did it has pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.
Cruz’s widow and Magdaleno’s mother aren’t happy with the deal.
James Montgomery, 31, a Whole Foods grocery store employee in Tustin with a record of three DUI arrests in California and Illinois, will be sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, prosecutor Michael Staudaher said.
Montgomery will be eligible for a parole hearing after 20 years, said Staudaher, chief deputy district attorney in the Clark County District Attorney’s Office.
Sentencing will be March 25 in Las Vegas.
Cruz’s widow, Kristina Cruz, said more than two dozen family members plan to attend. Cruz said she opposes the sentence as insufficient given the devastating impact on her family. She was pregnant when her husband died.
“I have a 1-year-old son who never got to see his dad,” she said. “My son will be 21 when this man has a chance of getting out. How do you explain that?”
JoAnn Gonzales of Ivanhoe, Magdaleno’s mother, said she also opposes the plea deal: “It’s unfair. We asked for a trial.”
But Staudaher said the pleas will keep the family from having to drag through a trial and also limit the defendant’s ability to appeal. While some family members opposed the plea agreement, others expressed support, he said.
Montgomery — who was born in Fresno according to records related to a 2009 arrest in Madera County in connection with a misdemeanor DUI out of Santa Clara County — entered his plea Friday.
Las Vegas prosecutors dropped charges of DUI causing death, kidnapping, robbery and grand larceny auto.
Montgomery told police he had no memory of the events of Aug. 18, 2013.
It was a Sunday. Montgomery said he had arrived in Las Vegas with his girlfriend about 4 a.m. and started drinking as they went from hotel to hotel until they found accommodations, the prosecutor said; he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.197%, more than twice the legal limit.
About 11 a.m., Magdaleno and Cruz — who spent the weekend in Las Vegas for Magdaleno’s bachelor party — were loading Magdaleno’s Ford F-150 pickup with luggage while checking out of the Flamingo hotel-casino when Montgomery got into the driver’s seat of the running pickup and drove away from the valet area.
Cruz was still in the cargo bed.
Magdaleno ran after the pickup, shouting that he was a CHP officer, and jumped into the cargo bed with Cruz, according to security video and witness accounts.
The pickup sped wildly away from the Strip, mowing down construction cones and speeding through red lights on an Interstate 15 overpass. Police say it collided with an SUV and smashed into a traffic signal pole in front of the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino, about a mile west of the Flamingo.
Magdaleno and Cruz were fatally injured when they were thrown out of the bed of the pickup.
Magdaleno was an eight-year CHP patrol and training officer assigned to Visalia. He was to be married the following month. Cruz was a real estate agent who worked for a property management company in Visalia.
Their deaths shook the Visalia community, drawing hundreds to Magdeleno’s funeral, including CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.