Woman sentenced in stabbing death of man known for work in restorative justice

Amy Cruz, second from left, addresses Victoria Griffin, far right, in a statement at Griffin's sentencing for the killing of her former husband, Concepcion Cruz, in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on Friday, July 7, 2023. Amy Cruz was joined at the prosecution's table by victim advocate Kelly Doyle, left. Also pictured are defense attorney Michael Shane, center, and Acting State's Attorney Colin Seaman, second from right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Amy Cruz, second from left, addresses Victoria Griffin, far right, in a statement at Griffin's sentencing for the killing of her former husband, Concepcion Cruz, in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on Friday, July 7, 2023. Amy Cruz was joined at the prosecution's table by victim advocate Kelly Doyle, left. Also pictured are defense attorney Michael Shane, center, and Acting State's Attorney Colin Seaman, second from right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

Victoria Griffin, right, reads a statement at her sentencing in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on Friday, July 7, 2023, after pleading guilty to the December 2020 stabbing death of Concepcion

Victoria Griffin, right, reads a statement at her sentencing in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on Friday, July 7, 2023, after pleading guilty to the December 2020 stabbing death of Concepcion "Coco" Cruz in Randolph, Vt. Griffin will serve eight years, with credit for time already served, out of a 20 year to life sentence. Griffin's attorney, Michael Shane, is at left. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — James M. Patterson

In a December 2013 photograph, Concepcion Cruz, top left, stands with Amy Cruz, top right, his stepsons Aamir Patrick, bottom left, and Aakash Patrick, bottom right, and Alexis Forest, bottom middle. Photo courtesty Amy Cruz

In a December 2013 photograph, Concepcion Cruz, top left, stands with Amy Cruz, top right, his stepsons Aamir Patrick, bottom left, and Aakash Patrick, bottom right, and Alexis Forest, bottom middle. Photo courtesty Amy Cruz Photo courtesy Amy Cruz

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-08-2023 8:29 PM

CHELSEA — A couple hundred feet from the offices of the Orange County Restorative Justice Center, where Concepcion Cruz shared his hard-earned experience to help criminal offenders pay back the debt they owe their victims, his own redeemed life was remembered and his violent death was mourned on Friday morning.

“He loved me unconditionally and loved my children from day one like his own,” Amy Cruz, Concepcion Cruz’s former wife, said while sitting at the prosecution’s table in the Orange County Superior Courthouse, which is next to the RJC where Concepcion volunteered his time. She clutched photos of their family as she spoke, her voice faltering.

“Coco was a larger-than-life person,” she said on Concepcion, who “would give you the shirt off his back” and who would make “a tense situation light so that you got through a difficult time.”

Amy Cruz, accompanied by her mother and one of her sons, had come to the Chelsea courtroom on Friday morning to witness the sentencing of Victoria Griffin, the woman who killed Amy’s beloved Coco. Griffin stabbed Concepcion Cruz to death in a heated argument that turned violent on a December afternoon in 2020 in Randolph.

Griffin stared down at the defense table as Amy Cruz recounted in detail the mental and emotional devastation the assailant’s violent action has imprinted on both her and her former husband’s children. Griffin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison, all suspended except for eight years, with credit for the time she has already spent behind bars over the past 2½ years.

The plea agreement between prosecutors and Griffin’s defense attorney Michael Shane was reached last September, but it was awaiting completion of the Department of Corrections’ presentencing investigation report before approval by Judge John Treadwell on Friday.

It took into account Griffin’s personal history of physical abuse and mental illness but at the same time orders her to participate in rehabilitation programs to avoid imposition of the minimum 20 years.

“The fact that there is a significant unexecuted underlying minimum term that could be imposed should certainly encourage Ms. Griffin to comply strictly with her conditions of probation,” Treadwell said from the bench.

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Amy Cruz, who was married to Concepcion “Coco” Cruz for 11 years and was working on reconciling their relationship at the time he was killed, described how her twin sons, 16 years old and present in the apartment when their stepfather was murdered, “have been through hell since that night,” requiring medication for “PTSD, anxiety and depression” as well as “night terrors and horrible ... dreams” due to the trauma they have suffered.

“My children have no idea who to trust anymore,” Amy Cruz said.

Then she looked up from the paper she was reading from and directed her gaze toward Griffin: “I will never forgive you for taking him away from everyone that loved him.”

Friday morning’s sentencing hearing in the old Chelsea courthouse brought a close, although perhaps not closure, to a case about the loss of a man who had worked hard to overcome his own demons in hopes of encouraging others to avoid similar mistakes.

A crime that both the prosecution and defense concurred on Friday was committed by an assailant who had a history of “significant” physical and mental trauma, court documents relate how tempers flared on that fateful day when Griffin told police that she and Cruz were arguing after she went on an errand to the store without him.

The argument escalated when Griffin alleged Cruz pushed her against a wall and she hit him back in the face. Griffin said she next “blacked out” and when she regained consciousness she saw Cruz lying on the floor and she was holding two steak knife handles that were missing their blades, according to the police affidavit.

In an interview with the Valley News shortly after the murder, Amy Cruz recounted how when her twin sons saw that there stepfather had been stabbed, one son whisked their stepsister out of the room while the other son cut off part of his own shirt to wrap it around Cruz’s stab wounds, trying to keep him alive.

They managed to tell their stepfather they loved him before he died, Amy Cruz said.

Also in the residence at the time of the stabbing was Griffin’s own 15-year-old sister.

Coco Cruz, who was 44 years old at the time he was killed, was born in Middletown, Conn., but moved to Barre with his mother and brother when he was 14.

He fell into drug addiction and crime and in 2010 was sentenced to 37 months in prison after pleading guilty to burglary charges. On Friday, Amy Cruz noted he had always been open with his children and candid in public about his past.

The birth of his daughter changed his life, Amy Cruz said.

“Coco was like, ‘I got to do something different and I need to be something different for her,’ ” Amy Cruz said Friday.

Coco Cruz went on through online courses to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and worked at sobriety center The Turning Point in Barre and was employed at the residential retirement home Joslyn House in Randolph at the time of his death.

When Cruz was released from prison in 2017, his probation officer suggested him for an internship with the Orange County Restorative Justice Center to help him “connect with the community in a way that was meaningful for him,” said Kym Anderson, director of reentry and community justice programs at the center and with whom Cruz was paired.

Anderson said Cruz’s sense of empathy, shaped by having been on the inside of the criminal justice system and prison and knowing what former inmates required to reintegrate back into the community, that made him an asset in the early days as the center established its programs.

“He had a level of self-awareness that was really amazing. He was a unique individual,” Anderson said on Friday.

Asked by Treadwell if she wanted to address the court, Griffin rose. With her fingers tapping the paper from which she read her statement, she acknowledged “children are now without a father as a consequence of mine.”

Griffin said that although she did not expect it, she hoped nonetheless that the program of rehabilitation and restorative justice that she said she is committed to pursuing might lead to a “fragment of peace” for her victims, vowing that she would use the time in prison to “change internally and humble myself.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.