BY JAMES HALPIN STAFF WRITER | Jan 3, 2024 Updated Jan 3, 2024
Keliana Lineth Moronta Jimenez, center, and her boyfriend Wellington Javier Marte Ramirez speak moments after being released from jail in August, with translator, Darylyn Pujols, left, and their attorney, Theron Solomon.
A couple cleared of murder charges after being locked up for 10 months in the Luzerne County Correctional Facility has initiated a civil lawsuit against the county and City of Hazleton alleging malicious prosecution and violations of their civil rights.
Keliana Lineth Moronta Jimenez, 21, of Hazleton, and her boyfriend Wellington Javier Marte Ramirez, 28, of Freeland, were acquitted at trial in August on all charges stemming from the shooting that killed Felix Dini, 22, of Freeland, and wounded Rochell Angel “Chi-Chi” Reyes-Cruz, 22, of Hazleton, at the rear of 199 S. Wyoming St. in Hazleton on Oct. 7, 2022.
The couple’s lawyer, Theron Solomon of the Wilkes-Barre law firm Dyller & Solomon, recently initiated litigation against the prosecution and blasted investigators for ignoring exculpatory evidence, resulting in the couple missing the first months with their infant son, Wesley, who was just 25 days old when they were arrested.
“This is just the start of this pursuit of justice,” Solomon said. “A family was torn apart and a mother ripped from her newborn baby based on the sole word of a criminal who these exact detectives knew was someone who would lie his way in and out of any situation. The direct evidence completely contradicted every single part of his story and yet they pushed on. The defendants in this case didn’t even bother to start a real investigation, forget about finishing it. What happened here is a tragedy and we are so grateful that the jury saw this case for what it really was, a grave injustice.”
There was no dispute at trial that the shooting was actually committed by an undocumented immigrant named Jendry Samuel Rodriguez Contreras, who was already wanted for murder in the Dominican Republic.
But Reyes-Cruz, a convicted robber described by Solomon as a “stick-up boy,” insisted that he heard Marte Ramirez say, “Grab the gun. Shoot him” during a marijuana deal gone bad. Moronta Jimenez then passed a pistol from the center console of their car to Rodriguez Contreras, according to Reyes-Cruz’s account.
Prosecutors maintained Reyes-Cruz’s story was believable because he never wavered in his identification of Moronta Jimenez and Marte Ramirez.
The jury, however, was not convinced and found the couple not guilty of all charges, including first-degree murder, after less than an hour of deliberation.
The lawsuit recently initiated in Luzerne County court targets the county, the City of Hazleton, Hazleton police detectives David Rodick and Mario Howey, Luzerne County Detective Charles Jensen and the health care provider at the jail, Wellpath, LLC.
“We are going to pursue real justice for this couple and their family,” Solomon said. “There’s nothing that can give them back that year of their lives without their children, but we are going to see to it that those named in this suit answer for what they did. It’s time they face down the same kind of accountability they stand up in court and call for.”