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.

To share your opinion on this ar­ticle or any other article, write a letter to the editor and email it to editor@avpress.com or mail it to Letters to Editor, PO Box 4050, Palmdale CA 93590-4050.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.