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Murder inside Marion County Jail: How an inmate was targeted and killed in 3 hours

Martin Cruz was incarcerated at the Marion County Jail on July 23, 2020. He was facing child molest charges.
Credit: WTHR
The Marion County Jail

INDIANAPOLIS — Martin Cruz was beaten by at least 10 inmates inside the Marion County Jail for more than an hour October of last year. When it was over, Cruz was dead. 

According to court documents, he had been assaulted at least twice inside the Marion County Jail after other inmates learned he was a child molest suspect. Cruz never had his day in court to face those charges. 

Into the lion's den

Cruz was incarcerated at the Marion County Jail on July 23, 2020. He was facing the following charges:

  • Three counts of child molesting — Level 1 felony
  • One count of child molesting — Level 4 felony
  • Two counts of dissemination of harmful materials to minors — Level 6 felony

Cruz was set to stand trial some five months later, just before Christmas, on Dec. 21, 2020. 

He was placed into cell block 2T in September, and at the end of the month, ended up in quarantine for COVID-19 exposure, according to the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

Instead of returning to cell block 2T, Cruz was moved to cell block 2F on Oct. 10, 2020, court documents show. The Marion County Sheriff's Office said the move was for Cruz's safety after he was attacked by inmates in 2T. Among the 29 inmates incarcerated around him in 2F were violent offenders and accused killers. He was brought into 2F at 7:22 p.m. In three hours, by 10:15 p.m., he would be dead.

Inmate intel

Cell block 2F is a general population cell block. It has sets of bunk beds and a day room. That means it has an area with tables, showers, bathrooms and TVs. 

Inmates are allowed to move from the bunk room to the day room as they please.

Inmates also have limited access to contact those on the outside, which includes a "video visit" to talk to a family member, friend or attorney. According to an inmate interviewed by police, inmates will use that opportunity to ask people on the outside to look up the charges against a new inmate coming into their cellblock.

On Oct. 7, 2020, just days before Cruz's killing, another inmate in cell block 2F was attacked. That inmate was also being held for a pending child molest case, according to court documents.

In that situation, guards were alerted when someone hit an emergency medical button in the block and guards could hear screaming. When they responded, they found the inmate that was attacked bleeding from his head. There were bruises and swelling around his forehead, and he was missing several front teeth. He was able to tell guards three or four other inmates had attacked him, according to court documents.

Previous attack on Cruz

In 2019, Jaylen Ryle was only 18 years old when he allegedly shot and killed 17-year-old Connor Turner inside the Penn Station sub shop on Pendleton Pike. Ryle claimed it was self-defense. 

He was placed in the Marion County Jail, and his trial was set for August of 2021.

Ryle first encountered Martin Cruz while Ryle was being housed in cell block 2T . The two were only together in the cell block for about two weeks when Cruz was attacked. 

On Aug. 8, 2020, Cruz approached a deputy and said he needed a doctor or nurse. Cruz had severe bruises on his face, and he was bleeding from his left ear.

On Oct. 10, when Cruz was moved into cell block 2F, as is standard procedure after the previous attack in 2T, a witness told police it was Ryle who pointed Cruz out as an alleged child molester. In court documents, that witness also said Ryle bragged about a previous attack on Cruz.

13News asked the Marion County Sheriff's Office about procedures for placement involving inmates accused of sex crimes against children. The MCSO told 13News:

The MCSO inquires of all inmates accused of sex crimes involving children if they would like to be housed with inmates with similar charges, especially if they believe it is in the best interest of their safety. Around 70 inmates are currently exercising that option. Many are not.

13News asked if Cruz made such a request and was told by the attorney representing the MCSO that Cruz never made such a request. 

Calculated attack

According to court documents, the beating that took Cruz's life Oct. 10 was organized and carried out over the course of an hour or so, unchecked by guards. 

It began when the inmates returned to the bunk room after eating. Inmates used a torn sheet to wrap their hands as they prepared to attack Cruz, the probable cause affidavit explains. The group waited until another inmate was off of the phone and then launched their assault.

Cruz was literally kicked off of his bed, according to a witness. He called for help and then was pulled to the back of the cell by the bars. It was there that inmates began kicking him and telling him to shut up. That witness told police Cruz was asking for help, and an inmate went and got a towel to try and gag him. The group is said to have told Cruz that if he didn't shut up, they were going to kill him. When another inmate tried to intervene, he was allegedly threatened with a beating as well.

The inmates then shoved Cruz's head in a toilet and poured bleach on him. After that, the beating continued. A witness told police, the inmates were "jumping as high as they could and stomping on [Cruz's] head."

When Cruz would try to crawl or move away, they would drag him back. Witnesses said Cruz was even hogtied with a bedsheet. 

Inmates then pulled Cruz back into the middle of the room and held him as they stomped on his genitalia and continued to punch and kick him.

The witness then said the group started jumping on Cruz's head and got a Marion County cup inmates are given, and another inmate got a food tray to beat him with. Another witness told officers that Cruz was hit in the head and back with the food tray.

After an hour or so of the beating, a witness said one of the guards came through on his rounds and did not see Cruz lying in the middle of the floor. 

When the inmates finally rolled Cruz over, a witness said there was a bile-like fluid coming from his mouth. An inmate checked Cruz's pulse and said he was dead.

The aftermath

Cruz's body was discovered during a shift change by the guards around 10:15 p.m., according to a probable cause affidavit. Guards were said to have attempted to resuscitate Cruz and called 911. Cruz was taken to the hospital and pronounced deceased at 11:24 p.m.

An autopsy was performed on Cruz on Oct. 12, 2020. It found 18 injuries to his head, including hemorrhages and a dislocation of his neck. Cruz had 14 injuries to his torso, including a fractured sternum and fractures to 10 of his ribs. He had lacerations to his liver, spleen, pancreas and kidneys. There was bruising all over his body, and the coroner reported the death as a homicide. 

The following people were alleged as being involved in the murder, according to the probable cause affidavit:

Five of those inmates are being held or have since been prosecuted for their alleged involvement in other killings.

Multiple other defendants, whose names were sealed, are also mentioned in documents as being involved.

13News learned that four staff members were assigned to that floor of the jail during the deadly assault on Cruz. The floor housing cell block 2F also holds 10 other cell blocks or units. Inside of 2F, there were 29 inmates being housed at the time of the assault on Cruz. The unit usually holds 36 inmates. There is no video surveillance of the bunk area inside of 2F.

Remaining questions

13News asked the Marion County Sheriff's Office if any changes in policy or procedure were made as a result of the beating death of Cruz. The MCSO responded it could not comment on that due to the threat of civil litigation.

13News could not find a civil suit filing against the MCSO at the date of this publishing. An attorney representing MCSO told 13News they are within the statute of limitations and would not comment due to the potential for future litigation.

When asked about inmates being assaulted that required hospital care as a result, the MCSO outside attorney released documents to 13News, showing there were 32 incidents in 2020 and nine as of May 2021.

When 13News asked for incident reports on those assaults at the jail, the attorney representing the MCSO responded, saying the documents were investigatory records and would not release them. Also not being released are any disciplinary reports for jail employees in connection to the assaults.

13News did learn in the death of Martin Cruz, two sergeants with the Marion County Sheriff's Office were found to have violated a rule for "Performance of Duty - Efficiency." They received a letter about the violation that was placed in their personnel file.

Also unanswered at this point is if staff were aware that one of the alleged attackers in the first assault on Cruz was in the cell block that he was being moved to.

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