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Jury finds Serrato guilty

June 05, 2002

of second-degree murder

By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

A 40-year-old El Centro man accused of fatally stabbing a 19-year-old Harbor City man was found guilty of second-degree murder this morning.

The jury, after two days of deliberations, returned with the verdict against Salvador Serrato for the murder of Edward De La Cruz on July 1, 2001.

Serrato is now facing 30 years to life after enhancements added by county Deputy District Attorney Susana Salgado.

The enhancements include convictions of Serrato prior to the murder.

Salgado said after the verdict came in, "We're very pleased with the decision by the jury. I think the verdict was correct."

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Sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. July 3 in the county jail court.

Serrato was arrested July 16 in a relative's home in the 300 block of Villa Avenue in El Centro after relatives told police he wanted to turn himself in.

Salgado and Serrato's attorney, Eduardo Rivera of Calexico, argued during the trial about the events leading to the murder.

The incident happened on the lawn of a residence in the 200 block of East Olive Avenue in El Centro. Serrato had been talking with a friend at the residence when De La Cruz arrived.

Salgado argued Serrato maliciously stabbed De La Cruz after De La Cruz punched him. Reportedly Serrato called De La Cruz a "bitch," and De La Cruz responded by punching Serrato.

While the punch landed, De La Cruz slipped and fell on his back. While he was down Serrato kicked him several times, according to Salgado and witnesses.

The friend Serrato was talking to tried to hold him back while De La Cruz got up. Serrato then pulled a knife, and according to testimony from witnesses, said, "I'm going to kill him."

Serrato stabbed De La Cruz in the left side of his chest, straight into the left ventricle of his heart. De La Cruz died a few hours later in the hospital.

Both sides agree Serrato went to a friend's house to get a change of clothing. He then went to his girlfriend's house, and she gave him a ride to Calexico. On the way to Calexico, Serrato put the knife, wrapped in tree branches, into a canal.

Serrato went to Mexico for two weeks before returning to El Centro.

Rivera's version of the fatal fight points to De La Cruz as the aggressor and Serrato as the victim.

Rivera claimed throughout the trial De La Cruz punched Serrato several times with an item while an unknown man choked Serrato.

Rivera claimed Serrato, a parolee, fled after the stabbing because he was afraid of going back to prison. Serrato reportedly suffered what he describes as a large gash to his face in the fight with De La Cruz.

Salgado argued Serrato never complained of any injury to his neck, and, according to witness testimony, Serrato's cut was only a small scratch.

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