Judge debates drug case
SUNBURY - Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor will decide within 30 days if enough evidence exists for a New York man facing drug and firearm offenses to proceed to trial.
But the same man's possible connection to a near-fatal shooting remains unresolved.
Esteven R. Soto, 30, of the Bronx, was in court Thursday for a habeas corpus hearing in which his attorney, Paige Rosini, argued that the charges filed against her client were primarily based on hearsay evidence.
She said the only thing linking him to the apartment of co-defendant Rafael A. Diroche Jr., 29, of 250 S. Poplar St., Mount Carmel, was that his wallet was found on a bed. The wallet contained identification and a small amount of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, police have reported.
In addition to the gun and drug charges, Soto and Diorche were questioned by state police at Stonington in connection with the shooting of 20-year-old Salicia Yost, of Milton, who was found inside a vehicle Feb. 8 on Irish Valley Road north of Shamokin. No one has been charged in the shooting that sent Yost to Geisinger Medical Center in critical condition. She was hospitalized for about a month.
Trooper Kevin Kearney, who filed the charges against Soto and Diroche, said Thursday the attempted homicide investigation is ongoing.
For the drug charges, assistant district attorney William Cole said the prosecution met its burden of establishing a prima facie case against Soto and Diroche at their preliminary hearing March 12, after which both men were held for court on all charges by Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones.
Thursday, Cole presented a certified copy of the consolidated preliminary hearing for Soto and Diroche, a drug identification analysis from the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab, a state police report compiled by Trooper Lancer Thomas, Soto's criminal history, a court order linking pings from a cell phone to 250 S. Poplar St., Apt. 3, and a search warrant for Diroche's apartment.
Ruling within 30 days
Prior to the hearing, Saylor met with Cole and Rosini in his chambers to discuss legal matters before the public defender conferred with her client. After listening to arguments from both attorneys, Saylor agreed to review the issues before issuing a ruling within 30 days about proceeding with the case.
Soto, who has a beard and was wearing orange sandals to match his county prison jumpsuit, offered no comment after the hearing while hiding his face with his hands from a newspaper photographer upon being escorted by deputy sheriffs from the courthouse. He was returned to the county prison, where Diroche also is incarcerated.
Diroche 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 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.
According to police, guns and drugs were found inside Diroche's apartment, where Soto was reportedly staying. Both men are convicted felons and restricted from possessing a firearm.
Shooting victim found
A passer-by found Yost alone inside a 2013 Chevy Sonic with Ohio registration that appeared to have crashed into a snow pile along Irish Valley Road, three miles north of Shamokin. The bullet wound was discovered at the hospital, and the criminal investigation was then launched.
Diroche and Yost were in contact with each other through text messaging in the hours leading up to the shooting, police have said. They were texting about meeting up and specifically spoke of "being on Irish Valley Road" minutes before Yost was discovered about 5:30 a.m., according to a police affidavit.
Diroche is 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 Soto's sister, Jazmin 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.