SANTA CRUZ — The man who fatally stabbed 17-year-old Jessica Sheridan in an abandoned Soquel preschool nearly two decades ago was sentenced this week to 35 years in state prison for voluntary manslaughter and multiple sexual assault charges.
Shortly after a Feb. 10, 2003 attack, Santa Cruz County investigators identified Miguel Ramirez Loza, 46, as the suspected killer, believing he had fled the country to escape charges in the case. It was not until June 2019, that authorities were able to extradite Loza from Mexico, where he is a citizen, to face trial in the then-cold case.
According to Santa Cruz County Superior Court records, Loza pleaded no contest to four felony charges Aug. 10, just weeks before his trial was set to begin. As part of the deal, four additional charges were dropped and some charges — including scaling murder back to voluntary manslaughter — were modified.
Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Johanna Schonfield, who prosecuted the case, could not be reached this week for comment on the charge modifications.
At his hearing Wednesday, Loza faced sentencing for voluntary manslaughter, oral copulation by use of force with a minor, assault with intent to rape and terrorist threats, plus enhancements for use of a firearm and great bodily injury in the commission of a sex offense.
Three speakers addressed the court prior to Loza’s sentencing this week, according to court records.
According to terms of the stipulated plea agreement, Loza is eligible to serve just 85% of his 35-year prison sentence, after which he would be deported back to Mexico.
On the night of Sheridan’s death, Loza, a former Watsonville transient, had reportedly been partying at the abandoned former Sherwood Preschool at 5630 Soquel Drive with another man, Sheridan and Sheridan’s 17-year-old friend when he cornered the two at knifepoint, according to early law enforcement reports. Loza was believed to have attacked the two — including sexually assaulting the friend and leaving Sheridan in a vegetative state. Sheridan died in a care facility of complications related to the stabbing some six months later.
Sheridan had run away from a foster home where she lived with her sister in Boulder Creek after meeting Loza at the Capitola Mall about a month before the attack, friends told the Sentinel in 2019.