AUBURN — A Minnesota man who has been behind bars for more than six months is expected to be able to go home, possibly by the end of the year, after pleading guilty Monday to a misdemeanor assault charge in connection with a late-night mugging on Park Street.

Fernando Novas de la Cruz, 24, of Detroit Lakes, Minn., had been charged with robbery and aggravated assault in addition to the misdemeanor, but those felonies were dropped Monday after he was sentenced to nine months in jail for simple assault.

That charge is a Class D misdemeanor, punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

An interpreter stood behind Novas de la Cruz during his plea in Androscoggin County Superior Court translating English to Spanish. He also was ordered to pay a $300 fine.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis said his office would be seeking restitution from Novas de la Cruz to cover medical bills incurred by the victim, John Katula, who was 39 at the time of the incident. A final tally should be available next week, Matulis said.

Police said Novas de la Cruz was driving a car on April 15 on Park Street in Lewiston when he pulled to a stop shortly before 11 p.m.

Advertisement

Katula told police that a back-seat passenger jumped out of the car, ran toward him, pulled a gun and pointed it at his face. The man yelled a racial slur and demanded Katula’s backpack, according to a police affidavit.

Katula told police he raised his arm to block the man’s hand, but was struck in the mouth and on the jaw. The man was later identified as a juvenile teen who was arrested, but has not been named because of his age.

Katula told police that Novas de la Cruz had driven the car, stopped, then walked over and kicked him in the ribs.

At a September hearing, Novas de la Cruz’s attorney, Allan Lobozzo, sought to have a photo lineup including his client thrown out, arguing that two of the men in mug shots on the same piece of paper as the defendant that was presented to the victim had shorter hair than an “Afro”-style. Two other mug shots were visibly blurred. Only one other man in the lineup with the defendant resembled the defendant, Lobozzo argued. Novas de la Cruz had sported an “Afro”-style haircut before going to Androscoggin County Jail in April.

“Essentially, that leaves two people. That’s far too small” a comparison for a photo lineup, Lobozzo had told the judge. Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice MaryGay Kennedy ruled against Novas de la Cruz, allowing the photo lineup to be presented at trial.

The case was expected to go to trial in September, but was continued because an interpreter had not been present during jury selection. The case was rescheduled for trial later this month, but a deal was struck before jury selection.

“Avoiding a felony was one of Mr. (Novas) de la Cruz’s major goals. That goal was achieved under the terms of this plea,” Lobozzo said.

Although he was sentenced to nine months in jail, Novas de la Cruz could be freed before the new year if he stays out of trouble at Androscoggin County Jail.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.