Two men were convicted of murder Wednesday in the killing of a McDonald's employee 18 years ago in Rosamond.
Cedric Sutton and Darnell Wheat were found guilty of all charges in the death of 37-year-old Maria Cruz Pina, prosecutors said. They face life in prison without the possibility of parole at their April 8 sentencing.
Pina and a woman co-worker arrived at the restaurant just before 5 a.m. Aug. 11, 2001. When they unlocked the door to the business, Sutton and Wheat assaulted them, according to prosecutors.
Both women were grabbed and forced into the restaurant. Sutton and Wheat brandished guns and ordered Pina to shut off the alarm and open a safe.
Pina was unable to open the safe, and the defendants shot her in the head with a sawed-off shotgun, according to prosecutors.
The men left the business but soon returned and pointed a handgun at the surviving woman. The gun malfunctioned and failed to fire, prosecutors said, and they fled the business. They discarded articles of clothing on the freeway as they sped away.
In 2012, someone called the Secret Witness line and implicated Sutton and Wheat in the killing, according to prosecutors. New DNA techniques turned up DNA profiles of Sutton and Wheat on the discarded clothing, and further investigation led to the discovery of the weapons used in the killing.
Sutton, 37, and Wheat, 41, were arrested in September 2016 following a Kern County grand jury indictment. Their trial began in November 2018 and lasted nearly four months.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, in a District Attorney's office release, said "I cannot understate the importance of citizen tips to help solve crimes. Sometimes one tip that puts detectives on the right path can be the difference between a killer being captured or going free."