LOCKPORT - A Buffalo man was sentenced Friday to 65 years to life in prison for killing one man and seriously wounding another in a shooting that grew out of a fistfight in a North Tonawanda parking lot.
Dominick Cruz, 40, of Amherst Street, was convicted Oct. 13 of second-degree murder in the killing of Mark D. Sternin Jr., 25, of the City of Tonawanda, and attempted murder and first-degree assault in the wounding of Tyler P. Sadauskas, then 24, of Middleport.
The sentence against Cruz, who has a past conviction for manslaughter in New Jersey, was imposed by Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon, who accepted the prosecution's request to make sentences for the various charges run consecutively.
The gunfire erupted about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 10 in a North Tonawanda parking lot at Manhattan and Tremont streets, used by patrons of Crazy Jakes, a Webster Street bar.
Cruz claimed he went looking for his gun after being knocked down in a six-man brawl. "Maybe I could have drove away. Maybe I could have done a lot of things," he said in court Friday.
He turned toward some 40 friends and relatives of the victims to apologize. "I'm very sorry," he said. "I lost my dad when I was 1. I lost my mom when I was 8. I know what it is to lose."
Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer said Cruz's father was killed by a policeman in Chicago, and his mother was murdered by a boyfriend.
"Mark didn't deserve to die, and we don't deserve to live the rest of our lives with this pain," said Mark Sternin Jr.'s father, also named Mark Sternin, of Mesa, Ariz. "Your Honor, this is a life sentence for us, and there's no chance of parole."
The fight erupted in a confrontation between Cruz and two other men, who were in a car, and the victims and their friend Josh Foeller, who were out celebrating Sadauskas' birthday. Conflicting versions of what set off the fight were offered during the trial.
"There is no reason, no reason but wrong place, wrong time," Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said.
During the fight, Cruz, who also was found guilty of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, opened the hood of his car and removed a loaded 9-millimeter pistol he had stashed inside the vehicle's air filter.
Cruz admitted at the trial that he shot the men with that unregistered gun, and that he hid it under the hood to make it hard to find in case police pulled him over.
He asserted that Foeller had a knife, a claim that could not be substantiated, but he never said the men he shot were armed.
Cruz testified that he fired in self-defense, but the jury rejected the claim, convicting him after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation.
Cruz eluded police when they tried to arrest him the day after the shootings at his workplace, Speed Global Services on Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda. He left the area and was apprehended April 1 in Lancaster, Pa.
Sternin's father told Sheldon, "There's no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't Mark, Tyler and Josh, the parents of the next person to walk into that parking lot would be standing before you."