Crime

Update: Woman who fled naked gets justice. Her assailant gets life.

A felon has been sentenced to life without parole for violent crimes against a woman who fled naked to get away from him and found help at a nearby Lowe’s store.

All the woman was wearing when she fled her captor, Andrew Cruse Jr. on that cold day Feb. 23, 2015, was the duct tape and zip ties he had used to bind her hands behind her back, Assistant District Attorney Mitch Owen said.

Circuit Judge Chris Schmidt sentenced Cruse, 56, Thursday after a jury convicted him of kidnapping, forcible sexual intercourse and aggravated assault.

Schmidt imposed a life prison term on each conviction. Cruse is not eligible for parole because he was prosecuted as a violent habitual offender. He had 10 felony convictions including aggravated assault, drug possession and forgery.

The woman was noticed at the Lowe’s on John Hill Boulevard by passers-by who stopped, covered her up and called for help. Gulfport police arrested Cruse about 30 minutes later. They found him less than a mile away.

The woman testified Cruse had assaulted her physically and sexually for 24 hours before she escaped, ADA Owen said in a press release.

The woman, who had recently moved to Gulfport, had gone to Cruse’s campsite the day before.

“When she made it to the camp site, he struck her in the head with a hammer, fracturing her skull,” Owen said.

After Cruse subdued her, he tied her up, took off her clothes and sexually assaulted her.

When Cruse eventually fell asleep, the woman opened the tent zipper with her teeth and ran away, he said.

Employees of the Mississippi Crime Lab testified blood found on Cruse’s jeans during his arrest belonged to the woman, Owen said.

A doctor from Memorial Hospital at Gulfport testified about her fractured skull.

Cruse testified in his defense, saying the sex was consensual, Owen said.

“The victim was courageous throughout this entire process and has now received the justice she deserves,” Owen said. “The community members who were present that day made crucial contributions by aiding the victim at the time of her escape and by presenting their testimony to the jury.”

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