- Associated Press - Friday, April 28, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - An Indianapolis man pleaded guilty Friday to killing three people over four days last spring in attacks that authorities say he justified by citing the horror movie, “The Purge.”

Marion County court records show 20-year-old Johnathan Cruz accepted a plea agreement that calls for him to receive three consecutive prison sentences of life without parole. In exchange for pleading guilty to three counts of murder and an armed robbery charge, prosecutors dropped plans to seek the death penalty.

Cruz was charged with fatally shooting Billy Boyd and Jay Higginbotham on May 12, and Jose Ruiz on May 15, along with a May 14 armed robbery during attacks happened between midnight and 6 a.m. on the city’s east and north sides.

Detectives said a witness told them Cruz confessed he’d been “purging,” in a reference to the 2013 movie about violent crime, including murder, being legal one night each year.

Prosecutor Terry Curry said Friday that the attacks were “absolutely random,” and the victims had no connections with Cruz. Cruz wasn’t a suspect in the attacks until he was arrested the day after the third killing in connection with a restaurant confrontation with a teenage girl who implicated him, Curry said.

“There was no reason up to that point to connect the three homicides,” he said. “The victims had nothing in common whatsoever.”

Curry, who has said Cruz committed the killings “for sport,” said he decided not to pursue the death penalty because a plea agreement avoids potentially years of legal fights that the victims’ families would have to endure.

A telephone message left by The Associated Press seeking comment from Cruz’s defense lawyer, Eric Koselke, wasn’t immediately returned Friday.

A sentencing hearing for Cruz is scheduled for May 11. Murder charges are pending against another man for allegedly driving the car used in first two fatal shootings.

Curry said there wasn’t any way to know what role the movie may have played in Cruz’s motivation for the attacks.

“There’s certainly nothing that would indicate that he intended to stop,” Curry said Friday. “On the contrary, he was pretty much bragging about it based on statements to witnesses and what was found on his cellphone.”

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