Jury acquits man in ’03 cold-case homicide retrial

By From page A1 | February 28, 2013

Ricardo Cruz is shown in April 2011 in Solano County Superior Court.

Ricardo Cruz is shown in April 2011 in Solano County Superior Court.

FAIRFIELD — After more than two years in jail and two jury trials, a man accused of stabbing and killing a Fairfield woman in her home in 2003 was found not guilty Wednesday of murder charges.

After the verdicts were announced, Ricardo Cruz hugged his defense attorney and then his parents.

Cruz, 37, a Navy veteran, had no criminal record when he was arrested in 2010 at his home in Santa Rosa and charged with murder. His arrest came after cold-case investigators reopened the case, got a DNA sample from Cruz and matched it to a minute piece of flesh found under one of Kathryn Vitagliano’s fingernails.

Vitagliano, 55, was found dead on the living room of her Robin Drive home on the night of Nov. 26, 2003, a few feet from a Christmas tree. A homemade pumpkin pie she had been baking for Thanksgiving the next day was still in the oven. The recently retired psychiatric technician from Napa State Hospital was face down in a pool of blood and had been stabbed nearly a dozen times.

Cruz is an ex-boyfriend of one of Vitagliano’s adult daughters. He had been at the home a few weeks before the killing prompting his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Tommy Barrett, to argue his client’s DNA may have ended up under Vitagliano’s fingernail because he may have been typing on her computer or may have sneezed on a mirror in the home.

Another murder trial for Cruz ended last year with a deadlocked jury splitting 8-4 in favor of acquittal.

Cruz did not testify at either trial. Before his arrest, he told investigators he had been home alone sick in bed at the time of Vitagliano’s death.

After jurors left the courtroom, Judge Peter B. Foor ordered Cruz to pay $80,000 to the Public Defender’s Office for its costs. Barrett objected to Foor’s imposition of the fees. The matter will be considered further at an April 2 hearing.

Cruz was ordered released from custody. Before the start of the retrial, the ex-girlfriend went to court and obtained a restraining order against Cruz.

Reach Jess Sullivan at 427-6919 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jsullivandr.

Jess Sullivan

Jess has covered the criminal justice system in Solano County for several years. He was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

Discussion | 7 comments

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  • JusticeFebruary 28, 2013 - 7:34 am

    I do not know anything more than what was printed in the newspaper. The fact that he was found not guilty is what our justice system is all about. However, for the Judge Foor to access him $80k for the PD office is appalling at the minimum. This judge is not thinking right. He should drop that claim and hope this guy does not sue for millions for wrongful prosecution which If I was on the jury, would vote to give him millions! The nerve of this judge and in our next election, I will remember this nonsense amount.

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  • ConfusedFebruary 28, 2013 - 9:37 am

    What The???? Are you serious Judge? Didn't this guy go through enough!? I read all the accoounts of this on Daily Republic AND The Reporter and everyone EXCEPT for this (must be) AWESOME Public Defender rakes the guy over the coals-AND-The Public Defender Objects to the payment!!! This judge obviously is biased and wanted him found guilty. Thankfully, a GREAT Public Defender (gosh they DO exist!), and a jury-OF HIS PEERS-believed in this Navy Veteran. This guy Cruz should sue the county for that same money-80K- AND millions more for 2 and a half years of his life, reputation, personal and professional scars that may never heal. That judge is CRAZY!!!!!!!

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  • offendedFebruary 28, 2013 - 5:38 pm

    I would ask that you refrain from referring to this guy as Cruz. I know its his last name but it is also mine and several million other people on here and we don't want him simply identified as "CRUZ" because that may reflect on us.

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  • smhFebruary 28, 2013 - 6:48 pm

    Lol... let me get this straight. Just because someone called him by his last name you got offended? Get a thicker skin... This guy has gone through enough. For the Judge to request payment of $80,000 is just ridiculous. Collect the money after he sues the county for millions...

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  • ...February 28, 2013 - 9:37 pm

    That must have been one minute piece of flesh. I don't generally see bits of me fall off when I type, nor do I see bits of me land on a mirror when I sneeze, because I simply do not sneeze on mirrors. I certainly he is innocent. If not, shame on the jurors. If so, good job justice system.

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  • ...February 28, 2013 - 9:38 pm

    That must have been one minute piece of flesh. I don't generally see bits of me fall off when I type, nor do I see bits of me land on a mirror when I sneeze, because I simply do not sneeze on mirrors. I certainly hope he is innocent. If not, shame on the jurors. If so, good job justice system.

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  • Former JurorMarch 02, 2013 - 12:32 am

    As a juror on the previous trial, I can tell you we never questioned if the DNA under the victim's fingernail was Cruz's. The science was solid and most of us never had any doubts about that at all. Nor did we seriously question whether Gallegos' DNA could have been present as well, masked by the profiles of the victim and the defendant. That was 'smoke and mirrors' for the most part, as Gallegos wasn't the one on trial, though that was hard to remember at times. The ONLY question (for 8 of us) was "Is it reasonable to believe that the DNA got there some other way than during the attack?" The case for 'secondary transfer' was very strong, and many of us felt that the miniscule amount of genetic material (4 nanograms according to the DOJ evidence tech at the time of the first trial) easily could have been picked up from the computer keyboard that the defendant touched just a week or two before the crime... or from the 'cookies and cola' that the victim's daughter got from the suspect just the day before. A suspect who was, by the way, documented by an ER doctor to have been conjested and phlegmy with bronchitis. So to the commentor above, yes it was an EXTREMELY small bit of flesh - too small to really even be called a 'bit of flesh' - at least in the former trial, it was referred to only as 'genetic material.' It was testified that a gram is about the size of a quarter of a sugar cube and a nanogram is ONE BILLIONTH of a gram! We even asked, and received clarification from the Prosecutor's forensic witness, the amount was so small, he couldn't say what the foreign DNA was suspended in. (We wanted to know if it was mixed with the victim's own blood as that would give us a hint as to when it got there.) To another commentor above, yes, the Public Defender was amazing. He renewed my faith in the US Justice System. Not to say that the Prosecutor did a bad job, she was passionate and determined, but we just could not get around the fact that the ONLY evidence against Ricardo Cruz was literally a microscopic speck.

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