JOSHUA TREE — Joshua Kruzik was found guilty of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death Thursday morning, Sept. 27, in Joshua Tree Superior Court.
Kruzik, 23, was convicted in the death of 19-month-old Audrey Allen of Twentynine Palms. He was serving in the Marine Corps at the time of Allen’s death.
The toddler died Nov. 20, 2010, at Loma Linda University Medical Center due to injuries from blunt-force trauma to the head. Before and during his trial, Kruzik admitted he struck Allen in the head with his hand repeatedly while baby sitting her on the night of Nov. 19, 2010.
Jurors began deliberating Wednesday afternoon after hearing closing arguments from Deputy District Attorney Lisa Muscari and Kruzik’s defense attorney, David Cohn.
Over the course of the nearly three-week trial, jurors learned that Kruzik had been drinking heavily with friends at the Deli Bar in Twentynine Palms the night of the incident. He had also maintained a brief affair with Audrey’s mother, Melissa Marnell, prior to her daughter’s death.
Jurors heard testimony from Marnell in which she said she knew Kruzik used steroids and admitted to sometimes helping him inject them.
Audrey’s father, Timothy Allen, said he was also aware of Kruzik’s steroid use, but said he “had no reason to distrust him.”
Kruzik admitted to beating Audrey
Muscari insisted Kruzik was aware of his actions and their consequences, despite being intoxicated and possibly on steroids during the crime. Cohn said Kruzik should be held responsible for Audrey’s death, but he did not intend to kill Audrey. Cohn argued the incident was manslaughter, not murder.
In 2010, Kruzik told investigators that he was staying with the Allen family for the weekend before he flew out to his home base in Camp Lejeune, N.C. He was finishing a six-month training assignment in Twentynine Palms. The toddler’s parents asked Kruzik to watch Audrey while she slept in her room, so Marnell could get a tattoo.
In recorded interviews, Kruzik said he tripped on a pile of toys with Audrey in his arms and fell on her, knocking her unconscious.
Kruzik said he struck her in the head with his hand about four times to “try to get her to wake up.” He described his state of panic when she remained unconscious, telling investigators he tried to jolt her back to consciousness by covering her mouth to stop her breathing.
He pressed on her stomach, tried to induce vomiting and placed frozen food against her skin in what he described as desperate attempts to get Audrey to open her eyes.
Kruzik said he eventually gave up, laying Audrey back in her crib and passing out on the Allens’ bed.
The next morning, Audrey’s father, Timothy Allen, found her discolored and not breathing. Kruzik called 911 and performed CPR on the baby until paramedics arrived. She was taken to Hi-Desert Medical Center and then transferred to Loma Linda, where she later died.
A forensic and clinical psychologist, Dr. Veronica Thomas, testified Tuesday that after her evaluation of Kruzik, she concluded he suffered from body dysmorphic disorder, borderline personality disorder and alcohol dependency.
Prosecution said jury had enough evidence
Cohn told jurors his client wasn’t innocent, but wasn’t a cold-hearted, methodical killer either. He showed a presentation to jurors, outlining how to apply the law when coming to a verdict.
“A killing that would otherwise be murder is reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed someone in the heat of passion,” Cohn said. He argued Kruzik, provoked by Audrey’s incessant crying, demonstrated uncharacteristic behavior that night.
Muscari painted a different picture of Kruzik to jurors.
“He did know what he was doing and he was aware of what he was doing,” she said.
She reminded the jury that Kruzik inflicted severe injuries on the child and made no attempt to call for help.
“It doesn’t matter if he was drinking. What matters is whether he was aware of what he was doing and he was,” Muscari said firmly. “The defendant beat this child and he left her there to die.”
Since Audrey’s death, her parents have divorced and now live in different states. Marnell, Audrey’s mother, was present in court Thursday as the verdict was read. She declined to comment.
Kruzik’s mother and grandparents were also present. His family wept as the verdict was read, calling the incident a “tragedy.”
“He’s a good kid, he just made a very bad mistake,” Kruzik’s grandmother said tearfully. “But the law is the law so that’s how it is.”
Kruzik is due back in court Nov. 30 for sentencing. He could face life in prison.