Hazleton couple acquitted on all murder charges free after 10 months in prison

Aug 18, 2023

A couple jailed for 10 months on murder charges walked into the Luzerne County Courthouse on Friday morning facing the possibility of life inprison without parole, but walked out cleared of all charges.

Shortly thereafter, they emerged from the Luzerne County Correctional Facility and were greeted by cheering family and friends.

They soon reunited with their infant son, Wesley, who was just 25 days old when they were arrested.

After less than an hour of deliberations, a jury found Keliana Lineth Moronta Jimenez, 21, of Hazleton, and her boyfriend Wellington Javier MarteRamirez, 28, of Freeland, not guilty of all charges, including first-degree murder.

Tears ran down their faces when they learned they were free and dozens of supporters in the gallery burst into applause when Luzerne County
Judge David W. Lupas ordered their release from jail.

“Before anything, I want to thank God. Thanks to everyone who believed in our innocence. We showed them,” Marte Ramirez said through a
Spanish translator outside the county prison.

“Thank God for not abandoning us through this process,” said Moronta Jimenez, also through the translator. “Thank you all for being here.”

The couple’s lawyer, Theron Solomon of the Wilkes-Barre law firm Dyller & Solomon, blasted the prosecution for ignoring “an overwhelming
amount of evidence that pointed that they were totally and unequivocally innocent of these charges.”

“These charges should have never been brought,” said Solomon, who tried the case along with attorney Caelie McCormick Sweigart. “The District
Attorney’s Office shows absolutely no discretion. It is full-steam ahead, a runaway train. They should really hang their heads.”

In a prepared statement, Assistant District Attorney Daniel Mulhern, the lead prosecutor, said the office respected the jury’s verdict.

“We respect the jury’s verdict and realize they had a very difficult decision in this case,” Mulhern said. “We believed we presented enough evidence
to convict the defendants based upon the facts and law. Although our office may disagree with the outcome, we respect the justice system and
know the jury carefully considered the testimony and arguments.”

The defendants rejected plea deals prior to trial, Marte Ramirez to a charge of third-degree murder and maximum 40 years in prison and Moronta
Jimenez to an aggravated assault charge that would have allowed her to be immediately paroled.

They risked the possibility of life in prison and placed their faith in the hands of a Luzerne County jury.

“I wasn’t going to plead guilty to something I didn’t do. I was sure of myself and had faith in my lawyer,” Mortona Jimenez said through her translator.

Moronta Jimenez and Marte Ramirez were charged with first-degree murder in 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.

Reyes-Cruz, a convicted robber described by Solomon as a “stick-up boy,” was the prosecution’s only witness linking Moronta Jimenez and Marte
Ramirez to the shooting.

All parties agreed the murder was actually committed by an undocumented immigrant named Jendry Samuel Rodriguez Contreras who was already wanted for murder in the Dominican Republic.

But according to Reyes-Cruz’s testimony, he and Dini were trying to buy marijuana when Marte Ramirez said, “Grab the gun. Shoot him,” and Moronta Jimenez passed a pistol from the center console of their car to Rodriguez Contreras.

But Solomon argued Reyes-Cruz began “spinning webs” — fabricated the story — to get revenge and that the physical evidence as well as other
witness statements belied his version of events.

During closing arguments earlier Friday, Mulhern urged the jury to convict the pair based on Reyes-Cruz’s consistent identification of Marte

“Chi-Chi never wavered on Wellington. Never,” Mulhern said. “Wellington gave the order. Keliana delivered the weapon. Jendry pulled the trigger.
That’s why we’re here. (Reyes-Cruz) never wavered.”

Describing Reyes-Cruz as having a history of “violence, guns and robbery,” Solomon said he had been threatening to kill people and trying to buy
guns mere days before the shooting.

“He robs people,” he said. “He’s made a career of this. This is what he does.”

Among the holes Solomon cited are the fact that the car Marte Ramirez was allegedly driving was recorded on video as being parked on the opposite side of the street as Reyes-Cruz claimed. The gun Reyes-Cruz claimed to see Moronta Jimenez passing also changed color during his iterations of the story, as did the fact of whether Reyes-Cruz had heard any shouting while seated in a vehicle prior to the shooting, he said.

“The more they investigated, the more holes there were in Chi-Chi’s story,” Solomon said, attacking the investigation by Hazleton police. “These are
material changes to the story and the reason that they matter is that the story starts to change.”

He noted that the police failed to timely test blood found on a car at the scene, do ballistics testing on shell casings from the scene or extract the
contents of a cellphone believed to belong to the actual shooter.

“Because they don’t have (Contreras), they’re going to dump it on these two,” Solomon said.

Mulhern — who prosecuted the case along with Anthony Cardone and Benjamin Green — countered that while there were “inconsistencies” in Reyes-Cruz’s story, he was absolutely firm that Marte Ramirez ordered the shooting, even while he was on a hospital gurney riddled with bullets minutes after being shot.

He noted that a black Acura registered to Moronta Jimenez’s brother was caught on video fleeing the scene, and that surveillance footage showed the shooter — “this guy who’s dressed in all black probably carrying a gun” — jumping into the car.

Addressing Solomon’s criticism of the police investigation and the lack of forensic evidence, Mulhern said such testing was unnecessary given Reyes-Cruz’s eyewitness identification.

“This isn’t a case of whodunnit,” he said. “Chi-Chi told everyone four times who done it.”

Solomon, however, said it was incomprehensible that prosecutors and Hazleton police failed to conduct a thorough investigation of a homicide.

“The District Attorney’s Office either didn’t look at the evidence, didn’t bother to look at the evidence or just couldn’t be bothered and went forward,”
he said. “It’s embarrassing for them.”

Asked if his firm intended to pursue civil action as a result of the full acquittal, Solomon said, “There will be a part two to this one.”

BOB KALINOWSKI, staff writer, contributed to this report

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