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Man gets 15 years for teen's death

A Mexican man accused of killing a Phoenix teen in 2001 will spend 15 years in prison for that crime and an unrelated assault on a jail inmate.

Miguel Avendano Velasquez, 20, pleaded no contest Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court to charges of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault. Under an agreement negotiated with prosecutors, Avendano will serve the state's mandatory minimum sentence for each crime.

Investigators said Avendano shot 18-year-old Victor Joel Cruz on Sept. 22, 2001.

He's not really a man. He's a coward who killed our brother, said Cruz's sister, Carmen Brumble, speaking to the court through a Spanish interpreter.

Although the Cruz family asked Judge Ray White to lock up Avendano for life, they agreed to the plea rather than face the uncertainty of a jury trial, said Holly Smith, a deputy district attorney for the county.

— Until it actually happens, I don't think any family knows how hard a 'not guilty' is, Smith said.

The Cruz family was aware from the beginning of weaknesses in the prosecution's case, Smith said. Another suspect, Gerardo Martinez Galvan, 24, had agreed to testify that Avendano pulled the trigger. But jurors would have heard dueling testimony from the two men if the case had gone to trial, Smith said.

Martinez was ordered to spend seven years and six months in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder on March 5.

Smith said Cruz habitually hung around with Martinez and Avendano, both Mexican citizens who had been living in the Medford area. On the night of his slaying, the three agreed to meet, and Martinez ended up driving Cruz's green Ford Probe to a gravel pit near the 3600 block of Old Military Road in Central Point.

Driving a different vehicle, Avendano accompanied them to the spot where police found Cruz's car the next morning with his body in the passenger seat. He had been shot twice in the head with a .38-caliber revolver.

Smith said that after the shooting, Martinez drove Avendano away and disposed of the revolver. Stereo speakers taken from Cruz's car were found in Avendano's vehicle, Smith said. Shortly after the crime, the two men fled to Mexico, investigators said.

Martinez was arrested more than a year later when an anonymous person told investigators that he had returned to the Rogue Valley. Avendano was arrested about six months after Martinez when he attempted to enter the United States illegally from Tijuana, Mexico, said officials with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

While in jail, Avendano attacked another inmate in January over a game of cards, Smith said. Avendano punched Danny Combs in the face, seriously injuring him. Combs underwent surgery for facial fractures and had plates put in his face.

Avendano's plea of no contest to both crimes carries the same legal consequences of a guilty plea.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail