ROSAMOND — Two men have been convicted in the August 2001 murder of a Rosamond McDonald’s man­ag­er during a botched rob­bery.

A Kern County jury on Wed­nesday found Cedric Sut­ton, 37, and Darnell Wheat, 41, guilty of all char­ges, including first de­gree murder with special cir­cum­stances, attempted mur­der and kidnapping to commit robbery, according to a release from the Kern County District Attorney’s office.

The jury further deter­mined that the crimes were committed in association with the “11-8 East Coast Crips,” a violent Los An­gel­es street gang.

The men will be sen­tenced on April 8 by trial Judge John Lua and are facing life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“The successful pros­e­cu­tion of a cold case mur­der is an important re­mind­er that we must never stop working to seek justice for those af­fect­ed by violent crimes. We remain committed to using new technology to shed new light on mur­der cases and bringing kill­ers to justice,” Kern Coun­ty District Attorney Cyn­thia Zimmer said in a state­ment announcing the convictions.

The former cold case involved the Aug. 11, 2001 mur­der of 37-year-old Maria Cruz Pina, who was killed at the restaurant on Ro­sa­mond Boulevard after she arrived just before 5 a.m. to open the restaurant with another co-worker.

Two masked men armed with handguns forced Cruz Pina, who was the mor­ning manager, and the other employee inside and de­mand­ed money from the safe. Cruz Pina was ner­vous and fumbling with the safe, and one of the rob­bers shot her in the head, killing her instantly, auth­orities said.

Sutton and Wheat left the office of the business, but quickly returned, point­ed a handgun at the sur­viving coworker, and tried to kill her as well. The handgun mal­func­tioned, failing to fire. The sus­pects fled the business, auth­orities said.

During the investigation on the day of the murder, cit­izen volunteers from Kern County Search and Res­cue found articles of cloth­ing dis­card­ed by the men on the freeway along their escape route, but there were no leads in the case, officials said.

A 2012 tip to the “se­cret witness” tip line im­pli­ca­ted Sutton and Wheat in the murder. The Kern County Sheriff’s De­part­ment submitted the dis­card­ed clothing to the Kern Re­gion­al Crime Lab, where new DNA techniques iden­tified Sutton and Wheat.

Further investigation led to the dis­covery of the mur­der weapons that had been seized by the Las Vegas Police Department nine days after the murder and had been kept by the po­lice since that time.

“I cannot understate the im­por­tance of citizen tips to help solve crimes,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Young­­blood said in a state­ment an­noun­cing the con­vic­tions. “Some­times one tip that puts detectives on the right path can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a killer being captured or going free.”

Sutton and Wheat, both of Palm­dale, were arrested in September 2016, and have been held in Kern County Jail without bail.

Wheat’s ex-wife, Dionna Wil­liams, 34, was also ar­rest­ed at that time. Ac­cord­ing to a news report in the Bakersfield Californian, the charges against Wil­liams were dismissed after she pleaded no contest as an ac­cess­ory to the murder in March 2017.

An annual walk takes place in the Antelope Valley to raise awareness of child abuse in honor of Wheat and Williams’ son, Dar­i­on Wheat, who was beat­en to death in August 2006 at age 5. Williams plead­ed no contest to child en­dan­ger­ment and was sen­tenced in 2009 to six years in state prison after tes­tif­y­ing against her former boy­friend, George Tyler, who was convicted in a Kern Coun­ty courtroom of sec­ond-degree murder and sen­tenced in 2009 to 25 years to life in prison.

Wheat was serving a 15-year prison sentence for spousal abuse against Wil­liams when his son was killed.

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