‘He trusted friends’ — 2 sentenced for fatal stabbing of innocent man in Tacoma

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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.
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Witnessing a crime and reporting it can be just as frightening as being the victim of a crime. Here’s what you should do if you witness illegal activity.

Samuel Cruces Vasquez was working two jobs to support his family.

It was after one of those jobs that the 25-year-old was ambushed by a friend and fatally stabbed in Tacoma, apparently as part of a gang initiation.

“He thought he was going out for a beer after work,” deputy prosecutor Greg Greer said of Cruces Vasquez at the Friday sentencing of two men convicted of his death.

Greer described it as a “gang murder” and the “execution of a completely innocent and unsuspecting person.”

He asked that 32-year-old Cesar Chicas Carballo and 27-year-old Jose Jonael Ayala Reyes each be sentenced to 60 years in prison for the crime.

“Nothing justifies what these individuals did,” Greer said.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge James Orlando gave them 50 years, eight months behind bars.

Cruces Vasquez’s girlfriend told the court that the victim worked to support her while she was in school and that they planned to start a family and move to California.

“Unfortunately, those are plans that can no longer happen,” Jessica Duarte said. “... He trusted friends, and look what happened to him.”

She said he has two young children in Mexico and that Cruces Vasquez was a father figure to her 6-year-old daughter.

“My little girl always asks of him,” she told the judge. “... I don’t know how to tell her he’s no longer here. How do you tell that to a little 6-year-old girl who just wants her dad?”

A jury convicted Ayala Reyes and Chicas Carballo of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in October.

They’re two of four men charged for the April 28, 2016 stabbing.

Juan Jose Gaitan Vasquez, 28, was previously sentenced to 37 years in prison, and 24-year-old Edenilson Misael Alfaro awaits trial. Jail records show he remains in custody in California in connection to a different homicide.

Cruces Vasquez was found with stab wounds and apparently run over in the 7800 block of South Trafton Street, an hour after he left a restaurant job at Southcenter Mall.

Ayala Reyes was either trying to become a member of a gang or to elevate his status within it, Greer told the court about the stabbing. Cruces Vasquez accompanied Ayala Reyes the night of the killing because he trusted him, the prosecutor said.

Chicas Carballo apologized for what happened and told the court that he was brought to the scene under false pretenses.

“I didn’t know they were going to take somebody’s life,” he said.

Defense attorney Jason Johnson told the court that Ayala Reyes felt that he or his family would be killed if he didn’t go through with what happened.

“He felt trapped,” Johnson said.

When it was Ayala Reyes’ turn to speak, he asked God to bless Cruces Vasquez and his family, and he maintained his innocence.

“God knows that I didn’t kill Samuel,” he said.

Judge Orlando told the men that there was no mercy or godly acts shown to Cruces Vasquez when he was killed. Orlando described his death as premeditated, senseless violence.

“Samuel was left like an animal in the street,” the judge said before handing down the sentences.

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.