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York City killer pleads to manslaughter charge in stabbing death

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City resident has pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing a man with whom he was scuffling in the city more than a year ago.

Lester Cortes-Cotto, 22, also of York City, had been standing with a group of people in the first block of East Maple Street about 1:30 a.m. July 9, 2017, but left the group to buy cigarettes, York City Police have said.

Before he could get to the store, he passed Jose Castro-Oquendo, who police have said felt "disrespected" by a look he believed Cortes-Cotto gave him, court documents state.

Jose Castro-Oquendo

A confrontation erupted between the two men, and Castro-Oquendo punched Cortes-Cotto in the face, police have said.

That's when Castro-Oquendo's brother showed up and also started struggling with Cortes-Cotto, according to police.

During the struggle, the 32-year-old Castro-Oquendo, known as "Menor," fatally stabbed Cortes-Cotto, first assistant district attorney Jen Russell said.

Also during the fight, Cortes-Cotto's gun was removed from his waistband and a shot was fired, documents state. It remains unclear who fired the gun.

Russell said Cortes-Cotto's gun has never been found.

Brother involved: Castro-Oquendo's brother originally was charged with homicide, but those charges were withdrawn a year ago, according to court records.

On Tuesday, Sept. 4, Castro-Oquendo pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, according to court records.

It was an an open plea, meaning it will be up to presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock to determine the proper punishment. The maximum possible sentence for voluntary manslaughter is a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, Russell confirmed.

Charges of first- and third-degree murder where dropped at the time of Castro-Oquendo's plea, court records state.

Russell said Castro-Oquendo maintained in court that he was afraid Cortes-Cotto was going to shoot him. But she noted that his self-defense claim was based on an unreasonable belief.

He and his brother fled the scene before police arrived, according to court records.

A few minutes after being stabbed, Cortes-Cotto arrived at York Hospital in a private vehicle, and he died in the hospital about an hour later, according to the York County Coroner's Office.

Pre-sentence report: Russell said the judge has ordered a pre-sentence report to be done to help him determine Castro-Oquendo's punishment.

Defense attorney Seamus Dubbs said he's waiting to see what that report shows before deciding on "an appropriate resolution to request."

Castro-Oquendo told the judge that "at the time, he believed he was acting in self-defense," Dubbs said, but later agreed he wasn't legally justified in taking Cortes-Cotto's life.

Because his apparent belief that he was acting in self-defense was unreasonable, it makes the case manslaughter, Russell said.

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