Case related to Irish Valley shooting bound for court
MOUNT CARMEL - Gun and drug charges were bound Wednesday to Northumberland County Court against two men questioned in the near fatal shooting of a Milton woman found last month inside a vehicle on Irish Valley Road.
The prosecution led by Assistant District Attorney William Cole worked to establish during a consolidated preliminary hearing that an active attempted homicide investigation led police officers to Rafael A. Diroche Jr., and the subsequent search of his Mount Carmel apartment and personal vehicle turned up guns and drugs, some of which police say belonged to Esteven R. Soto, an alleged roommate.
Attorney Michael Rudinski and public defender Paige Rosini, representing Diroche and Soto, respectively, each sought to discredit as hearsay the vast majority of the prosecution's evidence and accusations during the two-hour hearing.
Neither of their clients' names are on a lease for the apartment, and certified vehicle registration or certified gun registration information had not been presented. There was also no presentation of weights or quantities of the drugs allegedly seized, the attorneys said, questioning the severity of drug charges filed against their clients.
Magisterial District Judge Hugh A. Jones dismissed defense attorneys' requests for charges to be dropped against Diroche and Soto, and also denied to reduce their bail.
Arraignment for the two is set for April 14 and a pretrial conference for May 2.
Diroche and Soto were arrested Feb. 8 hours after Salicia Yost, 20, was discovered with a gunshot wound to her head. She was in critical condition for the majority of her three-week stay at Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, before being discharged March 1.
Although the men are accused of illegally possessing unregistered firearms and narcotics, neither they nor anyone else has been charged with shooting Yost. Trooper Kevin Kearney, the investigating officer, declined comment Wednesday when asked if an arrest was imminent.
Diroche, 28, of 250 S. Poplar St., Apt. 3, Mount Carmel, is charged with six counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, six counts of illegal possession of a firearm, possession of a firearm without a license, receiving stolen property and criminal use of a communication facility, all of which are felonies. He's also charged with misdemeanors of possession of a controlled substance, six counts, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Soto, 30, of 1752 Walton Ave., 6A, Bronx, N.Y., is charged with three counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, all of which are ungraded felonies, one count of illegally possessing a firearm, a second-degree felony, and three counts of possession of controlled substances, which are ungraded misdemeanors.
Diroche was returned to Snyder County Prison, Selinsgrove, on $300,000 bail. Soto is held at Northumberland County Prison, Sunbury, on $250,000 bail.
Kearney and Mount Carmel Police Chief Todd Owens both testified and were cross-examined during the hearing.
The policemen discussed their roles in the investigation, including how Diroche's cell phone was tracked, what they saw when he was detained outside his apartment building and the circumstances surrounding the initial entry without a warrant into a borough apartment where Diroche and Soto are believed by police to have been living.
Kearney called Diroche a "suspect" in Yost's shooting while he explained how GPS and basic police work determined that a contact listed in Yost's cell phone as "Rafi" was Diroche. The two were also believed to be in a relationship based on text messages, he said.
"Yes, I believe (Diroche) is a suspect with the victim who was shot in the head," Kearney told the court.
He said PennDOT records of Diroche's listed 250 S. Poplar St., Apt. 3, as his residence.
Owens testified officers entered the apartment without a warrant after hearing a second male, believed to be Soto, was outside and ran inside. He said Soto's sister, Jazmin Hernandez, "escorted" them to the apartment and knocked on the door to be let inside.
"As far as I'm concerned, we were in a hot pursuit situation and the law allows for entry without a warrant," Owens said.
Heroin, cocaine and marijuana packaged for resale along with a firearm was found inside a bedroom police believe to have been Soto's, Owens said. Soto's wallet and identification were laying on a bed in the room, Owens said.
Another firearm, a revolver found inside a locked safe, was discovered to have been stolen from the State College area, he said.
A revolver, a small amount of marijuana believed to be for personal use along with what's suspected either to be a cutting agent or cocaine - results haven't been returned from a drug testing laboratory - were found inside a room in which police said Diroche stayed, Owens said.
Diroche is also accused by Kearney of possessing a revolver, a large amount of cash and various drugs including LSD inside a Honda Accord police say is registered in his name and that of Hernandez.
Hernandez lives with Diroche and two children in the apartment, where Soto is alleged to have been living for about seven days prior to his arrest.
Diroche didn't say much to investigators other than to ask why he was taken into custody Feb. 8, Kearney said. When he was taken to the Stonington state police station, he was read his Miranda rights and he told police he wanted a lawyer.
"He said he didn't want to make a comment and implicate himself on something he knows nothing about," Kearney testified.
Rudinski asked Kearney why, if Diroche was a suspect, was he not tested for gun powder on his hand. The trooper said "too much time elapsed" in the more than eight hours between the shooting and Diroche's arrest.
Hearsay is admissible as evidence during preliminary hearings when it accompanies sound evidence, Rudinski said.
"It's all hearsay," Rudinski told Jones. "My understanding of the law is that you can't hold someone over if all the evidence is based on hearsay."
Rosini said her client, Soto, was not involved in the initial search when police were tracking Diroche's cell phone and that only hearsay places him outside the apartment when his codefendant was initially detained.
"The only thing linking him (to the apartment) is a wallet on a bed," she said.
Cole said Soto was familiar enough with the apartment that he was using the bathroom when officers arrived, reiterating that his wallet was inside a bedroom. Cole said Soto told officers he had been living locally for seven days.
He added that testimony of eyewitnesses - people who can be subpoenaed to appear if the case moves to trial - is ample and that the drugs were found in plain view.
Jones believed the evidence presented was enough to bound the charges to county court.