On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Judge Jim Shirley of the 11th Judicial Court sentenced Oscar Yocundo Cruz to prison for arson.
On Tuesday, Jan. 20, Judge Jim Shirley of the 11th Judicial Court sentenced Oscar Yocundo Cruz to prison for arson.
Years ago, Judge Jim Shirley’s sons went to school with Oscar Cruz. On Wednesday, Jan. 20, the 11th Judicial District Court sentenced Cruz to prison for three counts of arson. The defendant also faced sentencing for an unrelated felony property crime.

Judge Shirley gave Cruz five to 15 years in prison for each of the three arson counts. The second count runs consecutively to the first. The third will run concurrently. His restitution comes to $1,039,395.

Cruz will serve one to six years for the property crime, concurrent with count one of the arson case. In his mid-twenties, he’s looking at 10 to 30 years behind bars. 

Cruz came to court from jail, where he’d spent the past 322 days. The court credited him for the time served. Heartbroken family members comforted each other outside the courtroom, barred from entry due to Covid restrictions.

“This gives me no pleasure,” the judge told the defendant. “I saw you grow up. My kids were in your age range. However, I think the sentence is appropriate given the severity of the crime.” 

Cruz’s story changed over time, but he now admits to starting the fire that destroyed three buildings with no loss of life. The arson occurred on Nov. 17, 2019. Over a year later, the site still looks “like Detroit in the eighties,” according to DA Bryce Shields.

Defense attorney David Neidert argued for either probation or two to five years on each count run concurrently. DA Shields asked for the maximum penalty on all of the counts.

“We would be here for two more buildings if not for the quick action of the LVFD,” he said. “The Bank Building is probably unusable.”  Firefighters saved the historic train depot.

“People were displaced from their apartments and had to find somewhere else to live,” said the DA. He recalled the opening gala of Michael Murphy’s bookstore several years ago. Nothing remains.

Cruz’s former Scoutmaster, Todd Plimpton, was also a victim. He lost his former law office, Pershing Pub and irreplaceable memorabilia from his military career.

“Cruz claimed that Mr. Plimpton paid him $2,000 to set the fire,” said Shields. “That came out in the preliminary hearing. He’s had opportunity to retract that statement and hasn’t done so. The State finds that reprehensible.”

Plimpton phoned into the hearing with a victim impact statement.

“I’ve been conflicted on this,” he said. “I’ve known this young man for a long time. I’m disappointed about the way he’s conducted himself by implying that anyone who owned those buildings paid him to burn them down. I’m under oath. Nobody paid him, and anything he says along those lines is complete crap.”

“I’m madder about him impugning the reputations of the property owners than I am about him burning the buildings down,” he continued. “As far as I’m concerned, he should get the maximum sentence.”

Cruz exercised his right of allocution by speaking to the judge before sentencing.

“I made a big mistake,” he said. “I was under the influence of methamphetamine, or I never would have done it. I feel terrible. I’m hoping you give me probation. I can be an upstanding and law-abiding citizen.”

“If I was sober, I wouldn’t have done it,” he repeated. “It’s not an excuse, but being in jail, I’ve had time to reflect and think about my life. I know I’m a better person than this.”

The judge reminded the defendant that people could have died in the fire. “In that event, we’d be having a different conversation, and I’d have no choice but to send you to prison. You could have killed people. You didn’t, thank goodness, but that’s how serious arson is.”

He also noted that the defendant had no criminal history before Nov. 2019, when he committed the property crime at Lovelock’s Shop-N-Go.

Attorney Steve Cochran described the theft as an “unsophisticated smash and grab.” His client broke a glass door and grabbed a jar containing cash and change. Customers donated the money to a program for youth. 

A former employer wrote a letter vouching for Cruz, saying he was a good worker. Similarly, Sheriff Jerry Allen recommended inpatient treatment for substance abuse. 

The judge advised Cruz to take advantage of substance abuse treatment and counseling in prison. “It will be helpful to you when you get out,” he said.