According to the 2nd Court of Appeals, appellant Brian Cruz appealed his convictions for carjacking, burglary, false imprisonment, assault, reckless driving, and hit-and-run driving. The crimes were committed largely in Pacific Palisades in 2014.
In his appeal, Cruz contended the trial court erred by failing to find him incompetent to stand trial and denied his motions for mistrial based upon his asserted lack of competency.
Cruz also contended he received ineffective assistance of counsel and the judge exhibited judicial bias. Finally, he contended there was insufficient evidence to support his burglary convictions.
The state appeals court on August 15, denied his appeal writing, “The judgment of the Superior court is affirmed.”
Residents may remember Brian Thomas Cruz, now 52, who went on a one-day crime spree in Pacific Palisades on August 11, 2014.
Cruz, a transient, broke into an 84-year-old woman’s home in the 100 block of Marquez Place around 7:40 a.m. shouting profanities and forcing the woman to help him provide him a disguise.
Cruz forced her at knifepoint to drive him, but she intentionally crashed her car into a construction vehicle near Palisades High School. The woman escaped serious injury and Cruz fled the vehicle.
He then carjacked another woman, a teacher, and crashed that vehicle a short distance away. He went to another nearby home and forced another woman to surrender her car keys, according to Deputy District Attorney Eugene Hanrahan.
Cruz drove north on Pacific Coast Highway and ultimately reached Malibu before hitting several vehicles and eventually crashing again and being taken into custody.
At his trial, he asserted he was incompetent to stand trial. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) and waived a jury trial.
After a two-phase bench trial (guilt and sanity) in 2017, the court found Cruz did not meet his burden of establishing insanity (NGI).
One doctor testified that Cruz “was malingering because he manifested symptoms from several psychotic disorders, yet his behavior was rational and goal oriented.
“Indeed, although Cruz told a ‘coherent narrative’ about DHS pursuing him, which would indicate paranoid disorder, the doctor found Cruz lacked the affect and behavior associated with that disorder. Rather, Cruz’s behavior was consistent with a malingerer, i.e., someone posing as a victim of mental illness.”
A second doctor concurred and reported “Cruz had bipolar disorder with polysubstance dependence. Mood disorders typically have onset in the late teens and early 20s. Cruz’s behavior since his late teens was consistent with chronic bipolar mood disorder.”
The doctor felt that during the crime spree, Cruz had not been taking his medication and “could have been in the middle of a manic episode in conjunction with using bath salts, which may have affected his judgment and decision-making ability. As result, Cruz would have been unstable, impulsive and erratic.” But did not meet the criteria for NGI,
Cruz was sentenced to state prison in July 2020 for 123 years and six months.