Through a 32-minute series of three back-to-back preliminary hearings, mostly waived, the three suspects in May’s triple homicide in Lebanon saw their cases advanced to trial.
Defendants Ivan Claudio Rosero, Alex Jadriel Torres-Santos, and James Fernandez-Reyes appeared in front of Magisterial District Judge Aurelis Figueroa on Thursday morning, Oct. 18, for their preliminary hearings, with court called to order at 8:32 a.m.
Rosero, in a three-minute proceeding, waived his right to a preliminary hearing. He was represented by Christopher Sarno of Lancaster-based Clymer, Musser, & Sarno.
At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor – in this case, Lebanon County District Attorney Pier Hess Graf – presented evidence that demonstrates a basis for believing the defendant committed the alleged crime.
In this case, Rosero’s attorneys noted that this waiver meant simply that they were agreeing that city Detective Lawrence Minnick, the arresting officer, would testify at trial as he had previously stated in the affidavit of probable cause. Minnick appeared aside DA Hess Graf in court Thursday.
Rosero exited the courtroom within five minutes of court being called to session.
Being held for trial after a preliminary hearing is not a finding of guilt, and waiving a prelim is not an admission of guilt. All three defendants are presumed innocent, and will have the right to a jury trial at which the commonwealth has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Following Rosero, there was a brief intermission while Torres-Santos’ court-appointed lawyer, Berks County-based Todd Mays, consulted with his client. Torres-Santos next appeared in court very briefly and, with the help of a translator, also waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
Last to appear was Fernandez-Reyes, who entered the courtroom around 8:50 a.m. Thursday. Fernandez-Reyes, represented by court-appointed local attorney Michael Light, elected to proceed with the preliminary hearing, and Detective Minnick was called to the stand.
Hess Graf asked Minnick a series of questions establishing the basic facts of the May 31 incident. (For background on the prosecution’s case, read our earlier article on the affidavits of probable cause.) The hearing had to restart only a minute in, as the translator had been out of the room assisting in a conversation between Torres-Santos and his attorneys.
Minnick testified Thursday that Fernandez-Reyes in an interview shortly after his arrest said that all three of them – Fernandez-Reyes, Torres-Santos, and Rosero – had firearms on the night of May 31. Minnick testified further that Fernandez-Reyes said he shot first in that interview. Minnick said that per Pennsylvania law concerning an interview of a minor, a relative of Fernandez-Reyes had been present for this interview.
Fernandez-Reyes is currently being tried as an adult, which his attorney hopes to contest in favor of having him tried in juvenile court, according to PennLive’s report.
Minnick also described in court two guns found in the apartments associated respectively to Torres-Santos and Fernandez-Reyes in the same apartment building – a .380-caliber handgun found in Torres-Santos apartment and an AR platform long gun with .223 ammunition.
Minnick testified that .223 rifle rounds were found at the scene, along with 9mm shell casings, but no .380 rounds were identifed.
Minnick added that all three of the defendants claimed in interviews that the .380 handgun had been the weapon they specifically had fired that night.
Questions came up in cross-examination about whether gunshot residue testing had been conducted on samples collected during the arrest. Minnick said that it had, but that he was not aware of any results at present.
Fernandez-Reyes exited the courtroom at 9:04 a.m.
Hess-Graf is seeking the death penalty against Rosero and Torres-Santos. Fernandez-Reyes, at 16, is not eligible for the death penalty as a juvenile.
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Not withstanding any plea negotiations that could occur in this or any criminal proceeding, the cases will now advance to trial in the Court of Common Pleas.
A fourth individual – Tiffany N. Koziara – had been arrested along with Rosero. Koziara pled guilty in September to two third-degree felonies of hindering apprehension. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for next week in front of Lebanon County Judge Brad Charles.
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