Abraham Cruz claimed under oath Tuesday he did not know the two women killed in Adams County on Aug. 30, 1980.
Nearly 39 years after the encounter, Cruz Jr., now 58, is on trial this week charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and second-degree murder, and one count of third-degree murder in the shooting deaths of the Nancy and Deborah Patterson. He also faces charges of arson and burglary. He was charged in August 2015.
On Aug. 30, 1980, Nancy Patterson, 41, and her daughter Deborah Patterson, 17, were fatally shot while trying to escape their firebombed home in Freedom Township in the southern part of the county.
When Cruz took the witness stand Tuesday, he said he never saw the victims and did not know Deborah Patterson was once his uncle’s girlfriend.
Court-appointed defense attorney Suzanne Sennett Smith asked if Cruz did what two co-defendants claimed. Co-defendants Erasmo Cruz and Ruperto Garcia testified during trial that Cruz was involved in the killings.
“No, I did not,” Cruz said in court.
On cross-examination, Cruz admitted to owning “a sawed-off shotgun” in 1980.
Cruz’s uncle Erasmo testified for the prosecution with the assistance of a certified Spanish-speaking interpreter Tuesday. Erasmo pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder in February 2014 and was sentenced to serve 16 to 40 years in state prison for the deaths of his ex-girlfriend Deborah and her mother Nancy, according to Gettysburg Times archives.
Erasmo recalled both women coming out of their Middle Creek Road residence, according to his testimony.
“Junior shot them,” Erasmo testified through the interpreter.
Erasmo later confirmed Cruz was known as “Junior” in his testimony. Erasmo also testified he did not know in what part of the bodies the victims were shot.
For the first time, Erasmo shared he was shot, too, that evening because he was standing in front of Deborah, according to his testimony.
Erasmo claimed he was hit on his right side on cross-examination by the defense. He did not seek medical attention for the claimed injury, he said.
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Scott Denisch testified that Erasmo never mentioned being injured that night during police interviews prior to 2019. Denisch interviewed Erasmo in the past through an interpreter.
“It was clear he was trying to minimize his role,” Denisch said of Erasmo’s testimony.
The Cruz men, Garcia and Adalberto Andujar drove to the Patterson home around 2 a.m. on Aug. 30, 1980, according to police.
Andujar (also known as Cheepo) is deceased, according to prosecutors.
Garcia previously told police he and Andujar believed they were only going to commit a burglary. After a few minutes, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the home and it caught fire, according to court documents.
Everyone inside attempted to escape. One person was shot and lived, and two others escaped injury.
The trial ended for the day with closing arguments.
Defense attorney Dawn Cutaia, also representing Cruz, pointed to Erasmo’s motive because he knew Deborah Patterson as his girlfriend.
“He beat her,” Cutaia said.
Cutaia said Deborah left Erasmo and started dating someone else.
Cutaia noted how Erasmo “minimized his role,” which is “like most men who beat women.”
“Erasmo did this and had a reason to do this,” she said.
She shared the inconsistencies in Garcia’s testimony. When interviewed by police in 2010, Garcia said he wanted to go with the Cruz men to steal a VCR, according to Cutaia.
Garcia came forward about the killings after getting in trouble with police on an unrelated matter, Cutaia said.
It is up to the prosecution to meet the burden of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Cutaia.
Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett told jurors to look for “truth verifiers” from those who testified at the trial.
When Garcia testified Monday, he recalled the encounter that occurred when he was 15 years old, Sinnett said. But his details matched others who testified, which included the description of the car they rode in, Sinnett said. Garcia said the car was yellow and had two doors, matching the vehicle of another ex-girlfriend of Erasmo, Sinnett said.
Sinnett noted how Garcia was able to remember the gas-filled beer bottles and the way the four men reached the Middle Creek residence from U.S. Route 15, which Denisch confirmed was accurate.
“He was there, and he was telling the truth,” Sinnett said about Garcia.
Sinnett admitted that Erasmo “minimized his role,” but he, too, was there.
Sinnett said 39 years “is a long time,” and that it has taken almost 40 years to see all defendants involved “brought to justice.”
“It is an opportunity to see justice done,” Sinnett said.
The trial will continue into Wednesday with jury instructions before deliberation on the charges, court officials said.