The family of Leola Shreves exchanged tearful embraces outside a Sutter County Superior Court courtroom where inside, an eight-year court process had just come to a close.
Armando Arias Cuadras, 31, of Yuba City, was sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole for the brutal murder of Shreves – a 94-year-old Yuba City resident who lived alone.
Shreves was found dead inside her Park Avenue home on Jan. 23, 2013 and on Friday the man found guilty of murder, torture, aggravated mayhem, and burglary was sentenced.
“It’s sad, the whole thing is sad,” Shreves’ granddaughter Sandi Cook said following the hearing. “...Nobody wins, it’s not that kind of a situation.”
Cook said along with the pain the case has caused her family, she felt awful for Cuadras’ family who were also present in court.
Cuadras was arrested in April 2019 and has been in custody in Sutter County Jail ever since. Shreves’ neighbor Michael Alexander was originally arrested for the murder. Alexander admitted to killing Shreves during a lengthy police interrogation but later recanted his confession. After more than three years in custody, the charges were dropped and he was released from custody due to lack of evidence.
Shreves’ body was found with obvious signs of trauma to the back of her head. She suffered numerous injuries to her sternum, back, ribs, neck, jaw, facial bones and skull. Forensic pathologist Dr. Ikechi Ogan testified during the trial that the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries and attempted strangulation.
No physical evidence or DNA found inside Shreves’ home linked Alexander to the crime. In addition, a shoe print found outside the home did not match Alexander.
“There was nothing there,” Alexander’s attorney Norman Hansen said.
During Cuadras’ trial, Assistant District Attorney Jana McClung argued that Cuadras and Alexander worked together to commit the murder.
“This was a case of ‘and’ not ‘or,’” McClung said during her closing argument.
When asked in November if new charges against Alexander would be forthcoming, District Attorney Amanda Hopper said, “There has been no new evidence brought to light regarding Michael Alexander.”
Hopper and McClung could not be reached for comment on Friday.
“They would never recharge unless they come up with some evidence,” Hansen said.
Alexander sued Sutter County for $10 million in 2017 and reached a settlement for $50,000.
Blood and DNA taken from the scene that did not match Alexander’s or Shreves’ DNA was resubmitted to the state Department of Justice for analysis thanks to a new DNA analysis process. The analysis determined that the blood found in Shreves’ home belonged to Cuadras.
After it was determined that Cuadras was most likely the suspect who left blood in Shreves’ home, law enforcement began surveilling Cuadras and collected a sample of his DNA from sunflower seeds he spit on the sidewalk. The sample helped confirm the DNA match and Cuadras was arrested.
A jury found Cuadras guilty of all charges on Nov. 4, 2020.
Prior to the sentencing, Judge David Ashby denied a motion submitted by defense attorney Mani Sidhu to have confidential juror information unsealed in order to determine if a juror who tested positive for COVID-19 two days after the verdict was delivered was unable to carry out the duties of a juror because the virus.
Members of Shreves’ family gave victim impact statements in court. Shreves’ grandson Andy Smith talked about the void his grandmother’s death had left in the family. Andy’s wife, Tammy Smith, echoed what her husband said by explaining Shreves’ role as the matriarch of their family.
“She’s just not another ticket or docket number,” Tammy Smith said. “...She’s a person.”
She said her son had not come to any of the court hearings during the eight years because of the emotional damage Shreves’ death had caused.
“What type of person would do that?” Tammy Smith said of Cuadras. “That type of person shouldn’t be allowed to walk this earth as a free man.”
Samra Smith, Andy and Tammy’s daughter and Shreves’ great granddaughter, spoke next and said she would never feel safe if Cuadras was ever allowed back into society. Throughout her statement, Samra Smith did not refer to Cuadras by name but instead called him an animal.
Tarah Foster, Shreves’ granddaughter, was the last to speak. She took a few moments to compose herself before starting.
“She was an amazing woman,” Foster said of Shreves through tears.
She said no punishment the court could hand down would be enough for what Cuadras did to Shreves and her family.
“That’s too good for you,” Foster said of Cuadras spending the rest of his life in prison.
After the statements, McClung reiterated that Cuadras was the perfect example of what the punishment of life in prison without parole was designed for. She described again how Cuadras broke into Shreves’ home and murdered her.
“That’s every person’s worst nightmare,” McClung said.
Ashby sentenced Cuadras to life in prison without the possibility of parole and said he hoped Cuadras’ sentence would provide some closure to Shreves’ family.
“This is without a doubt the most troubling case this court has been a part of,” Ashby said.