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York City double murderer's death sentence overturned

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City man convicted more than two decades ago of murdering his ex-girlfriend and her current beau in a jealous rage has succeeded in having his death sentence overturned by a York County judge.

Milton Matos Montalvo, 54, and his brother, 52-year-old Noel Matos Montalvo, were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the April 19, 1998, slayings of Milton Montalvo's ex, Miriam Asencio, and her friend, Manuel Santana. At the time, Santana was using the name Nelson Lugo.

Milton Matos Montalvo

But last month, a York County judge threw out Milton Montalvo's death sentence.

A date for a new penalty-phase hearing has not yet been set, according to online court records.

Common Pleas Judge Richard K. Renn, in a May 22 order, ruled Milton Montalvo didn't receive a fair penalty phase during his 2000 trial and therefore deserves a new one.

Renn dismissed many of the murderer's claims, including those that argued he deserved a new trial altogether.

Mitigation case at issue: But the judge was swayed by several arguments, according to his order, which states that Milton Montalvo's defense attorney failed to present an effective mitigation case.

In Pennsylvania death-penalty cases, the prosecution cites aggravating factors to warrant a capital sentence, while the defense cites mitigating circumstances to argue for a life sentence. Jurors must then determine which of the factors they will consider and weigh the aggravators against the mitigators.

Specifically, Renn wrote that the court's denial of a defense request for funds to hire a mental-health expert — coupled with the defense attorney's failure to "properly explore" the issue of Milton Montalvo's possible emotional distress — deprived the defendant of a fair sentencing.

Third reason: Renn also listed a third reason for granting a new penalty phase. He noted in his order that the prosecution made "pervasive" references to the jury that their punishment determination was merely a "recommendation."

Renn noted the trial judge reinforced that erroneous notion to jurors, and defense counsel failed to object to those references.

Daniel Rendine was the defense attorney at Milton Montalvo's trial, and Common Pleas Judge Sheryl Ann Dorney, now deceased, presided.

After the murders, the Montalvo brothers fled to Florida and were eventually captured. At their separate trials, they blamed each other for the killings.

The murders: The Montalvos broke into Asencio's apartment at 233 E. Philadelphia St. and attacked her and Santana.

Asencio suffered multiple skull fractures. Her neck was slashed down to the spine, nearly decapitating her, and she was stabbed in the eye.

Her panties were pulled over her face and a high-heeled shoe was jammed into her crotch area, according to trial testimony.

Santana was killed by a single stab wound to the chest. A tube of lipstick had been jammed down his throat — forcefully enough that it cut the back of his throat, a forensic pathologist testified at trial.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.