August 9, 2003
Victim in rape-stab case dies
By CATHY REDFERN
Sentinel STAFF WRITER
SANTA CRUZ — After holding onto life for nearly six months, a Santa Cruz teen allegedly stabbed by her fugitive boyfriend has died.
Jessica Sheridan, 17, died Thursday afternoon at a Saratoga care facility, sheriff’s deputy Kim Allyn said. She had been in a vegetative state since Feb. 10, when her boyfriend, Miguel Loza, allegedly stabbed her in the upper chest before raping her 17-year-old friend. The trio, and another man, had been partying together at the former Sherwood Preschool near Soquel Drive and Park Avenue.
For three weeks after the attack, Sheridan remained on life support at Dominican Hospital, Allyn said, before being transferred to Saratoga. She died of complications from the attack.
Sheridan had run away from her foster home in Boulder Creek after meeting Loza at Capitola Mall about a month before the attack, according to friends. Her mother, Deborah Kennedy, is in County Jail on drug charges.
"We gave her notification yesterday, and she fell apart, as any parent would," sheriff’s Lt. Steve Hartness said Friday.
Friday, social workers were helping Kennedy make funeral arrangements.
Sheridan was due to graduate from alternative school this past June and was an excellent student, said Michael Watkins, director of alternative education for the county Office of Education.
Her alleged killer, Loza, was the subject of an intense man hunt, but escaped to Mexico.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, has joined the quest to bring Sheridan’s assailant from a Mexican jail to this country to face what are now first-degree murder charges as well as sodomy and oral copulation charges.
Detectives said Friday they have confirmed via fingerprints and photographs that it is in fact Loza in jail in Mexico, where he was arrested for an alleged stabbing.
Prosecutors now face the daunting task of bringing him to the United States to face a possible life sentence. Mexican officials typically will not extradite accused defendants who would face the death penalty or life in prison, said Ariadne Symons, head of trial operations for District Attorney Bob Lee.
Symons said she believes the maximum sentence Mexican authorities impose is 30 years. But the District Attorney’s Office is not willing to drop a life sentence in exchange for Loza, as that also opens the door to Mexico unilaterally taking over the prosecution and meting out a much lighter sentence, she said.
"We simply won’t make a promise to Mexico that we won’t seek a significant sentence," she said.
But encouragingly, Feinstein has contacted Lee’s office and has taken an interest in the case, Symons said.
Feinstein announced Wednesday she planned to ask Mexican President Vicente Fox for help to bring Loza and other wanted criminals to the United States, including Mexican citizens wanted in Southern California for the murders of a child and a deputy, as well as a priest charged with 19 counts of child molestation.
Under a 1980 treaty, neither country must deliver its citizens for prosecution if they face the death penalty, according to the senator’s Web site. Following an October 2001 Supreme Court ruling, Mexican authorities extended that to life in prison.
Maria Silva of Aptos said her daughter, Rina DiBattista, had been friends with Jessica — her friends called her Jesse — since the two were in fourth grade at Live Oak Elementary School. The two, along with Amber Jones of Santa Cruz, were inseparable, Silva said, and went on to Shoreline Middle School and Star Community School, an alternative high school in Santa Cruz.
Silva said the other teen assaulted by Loza, whose name has not been released, is "still going through a hard time" and is in counseling.
"He ruined two girls’ lives," Silva said. "There are a lot of angry parents and hurt young people who want to see him pay for his crimes."
Silva and her daughter cried as they described Jesse as a fun-loving, outgoing girl who smiled often and loved to dance, play basketball and be with friends. She was always ready to help, they said.
"My daughter visited her every day and said she wanted to bring her home and take care of her, that’s how much she loved her," Silva said. "We want her to be remembered as the beautiful soul she was."
DiBattista laughed and cried Friday as she explained how Jesse loved her long strawberry blonde hair and would take so long fixing it that she would always be the last one out the door.
Sheridan moved several times after leaving Live Oak, going with her mother to Washington, then to her grandparents’ home in Colorado, then to live with DiBattista and her mother. She never talked about her father, DiBattista said.
"She had a hard life, but she had a great heart and could put a smile on anyone’s face."
A former girlfriend of Loza, who wished to be identified only by her first name, Sarah, said she was angry Loza had been portrayed as an evil person.
Sarah was with Loza from age 13 to 18, she said, and has his 3-month-old baby, Nethaneel Josiah, a name picked by Loza. She met him on the bus in Watsonville, she said.
He encouraged her to finish high school and was a sweet, fun person who was supportive of her, Sarah said. But she said Loza is bipolar and has a drinking problem.
"When he drinks, he’s not a good person," she said. "But he asked for help and never got it. He was in jail for six months and never got a treatment program."
Loza worked in construction, landscaping and other jobs, but Sarah asked him to leave her home in December because he couldn’t get a job. He was on probation for domestic violence against her, which hampered his ability to find work, she said.
"The next thing I hear is a call from police," she said.
Loza was raised in King City, she said. He also spent time in Long Beach before moving to Santa Cruz, then Watsonville. He has a mother, stepfather, brother and two sisters in Watsonville and extended family in Mexico, she said.
"He will live his life there," she said. "I hope he has a good life. I’ll always love him, but I don’t think I’ll go to Mexico. I wanted his baby and I got his baby. Hopefully, he’ll get to meet him one day."