Northampton man sentenced to 15-20 years after admitting to murder, burning body in 2018

Hampshire County

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (WWLP) – A Northampton man will spend up to 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter among other charges in connection with the killing and burning of a man’s body two years ago, according to the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office. 

A Hampshire Superior Court Judge on Tuesday sentenced 24-year-old Nerkin Morales to 15-20 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of improper disposition of a body, burning personal property, intimidation of a witness, withholding evidence from a criminal proceeding, two counts of conspiracy, and unlawful possession of a firearm. 

The DA’s office said Morales admitted in court on Tuesday to shooting 44-year-old Daniel Cruz inside an apartment on Bridge Street in Northampton after Cruz was involved in an altercation with a friend of Morales in March 2018. 

After Cruz was killed, the DA’s office said Morales and several others spent 12 hours concealing the crime by cleaning the crime scene, disposing of key evidence including the firearm used to kill Cruz, and ultimately burning his body in a vacant field in Hatfield after nightfall on March 10.

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Cruz’s body was found on fire after several residents in the area called 911. Nine people have been indicted by a grand jury on charges in connection with Cruz’s death and the alleged coverup of his murder. 

In March, 22-year-old Pedro Soto-Rodriguez pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact to murder and other charges in connection with efforts to conceal and dispose of Cruz’s body, to clean evidence from the crime scene, and to intimidate a key witness from cooperating with police. 

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Soto-Rodriguez was sentenced to a total of 7-8 years in state prison.   

Morales was the only one charged with killing Cruz. Due to a previous record, he was sentenced as an armed career criminal for possessing an illegal firearm, according to the DA’s office. That conviction carries a 15-year mandatory minimum sentence. 

He is also currently serving a three-year sentence on unrelated charges of possession with intent to distribute heroin and trafficking cocaine. 

The cases for five others accused of being involved are still pending.

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