20190103-bc-zimmer (copy)

Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer

Two men convicted of murdering a McDonald’s employee in Rosamond in 2001 received life sentences on Wednesday.

Cedric Sutton, 37, and Darnell Wheat, 41, were each sentenced by Judge John Lua to life without the possibility of parole plus 100 years, guaranteeing that they will spend the rest of their lives in prison barring an appellate court ruling.

At the hearing, Sutton’s defense attorney filed a motion for a new trial as well as a motion to continue sentencing to another date. However, Lua denied the motions and allowed the sentencing to commence.

“It’s so satisfying to see a cold case solved and a conviction received. So many families don’t get this kind of justice because the majority of our cold cases are not solved,” said District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, who decided to personally prosecute the case. “I hope it gives hope to those who are out there that we can do this — we just need the public’s help.”

Sutton and Wheat were found guilty in March of murder, attempted murder and two counts of kidnapping in the death of 37-year-old Maria Cruz Pina. She left behind three children who Zimmer said have struggled to come to terms with their mother’s death.

“They have a lot of mixed feelings,” she said. “It’s still painful for all of them, but they had confidence in us that we would represent them, and I’m so proud that we’ve done that well. They know after 18 years who killed their mother and they can now close out part of the pain and move on.”

According to court documents, Pina and a co-worker arrived at the McDonald’s at 2511 Rosamond Blvd. just before 5 a.m. on Aug. 11, 2001. When they unlocked the door to the restaurant, Sutton and Wheat assaulted them, prosecutors said.

Both women were grabbed and forced into the restaurant, court records say. Sutton and Wheat brandished guns and ordered Pina to shut off the alarm and open a safe. However, Pina was unable to open the safe, and the defendant shot her in the head with a sawed-off shotgun, according to court documents.

The men left the business but soon returned and pointed a handgun at the surviving woman, prosecutors said. The gun malfunctioned and failed to fire, after which they left the restaurant.

The case went cold for a decade until, in 2012, a call to the Secret Witness line implicated Sutton and Wheat in the killing, according to prosecutors.

DNA from clothing they had discarded upon leaving the restaurant connected them to the crime. In addition, investigators found the weapons used in the homicide.

Sutton and Wheat were subsequently arrested in September 2016.

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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