A Lancaster man serving life for a 2002 murder will get no relief from his sentence after an appellate court denied his claim that trial witnesses were swayed by “secret” guilty-plea deals.
Ricardo Morales, now 38, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life plus 10 to 20 years in prison for killing 22-year-old Shalimar Espinosa and wounding Espinosa’s brother in an attempted drug robbery in Lancaster city.
Morales recently filed for relief, arguing that three co-defendants who testified against him at trial had plea arrangements with prosecutors prior to trial.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that Morales’ request is far too late. Morales was required to file such an appeal within a year of his conviction becoming final, unless there was a discovery of new evidence or information that could have impacted the verdict.
The high court found no such new evidence was uncovered.
Morales’ claim that the co-defendants were swayed by plea deals prior to trial was already vetted by Morales’ prior lawyer and determined to be false.
Morales’ trial attorney testified at a prior hearing that the defense theory rested on disputing the co-defendants’ testimony, so “ample” time was spent investigating them.
Prosecutors also testified at a prior hearing that the co-defendants’ testimony would be considered in resolving their cases, but no specifics were discussed prior to Morales’ trial.
Morales, along with Roberto Colon and other men, attempted to rob the Espinosa brothers on April 30, 2002, at Walnut and Nevin streets. The brothers were shot as they tried to run away.
Colon also was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving life plus 18 to 40 years.
Three co-defendants pleaded guilty to third-degree murder; Lazarus DeJesus was sentenced to 9 to 18 years, while Angel Bermudez and Angel Martinez received 12½-to-25-year terms.
Lancaster city police filed charges.
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