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Truck Driver Convicted of Murder

June 15, 1994

BELLEFONTE, Pa. (AP) _ A truck driver was convicted of murdering a 17-year-old runaway and automatically sentenced to life in prison.

James Robert Cruz Jr., 36, of New Waterford, Ohio, was convicted Tuesday of killing Dawn Marie Birnbaum of Gary, Ind.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but Cruz was found innocent of kidnapping, rape, sodomy and robbery - the aggravating circumstances that would have supported a death sentence.

Birnbaum’s strangling was similar to dozens of other slayings along remote highways in the Midwest and East since the mid-1980s. Cruz still is being investigated in other slayings, primarily in Ohio and Indiana.

Birnbaum’s body was found near Interstate 80 in March 1993, several days after she ran away from a boarding school in Maine.

Investigators matched Cruz’s name to fuel records from truck stops where Birnbaum was last seen in Maine and where her body was found.

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