State prison ordered in fatal York City stabbing

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Jose Castro-Oquendo sought forgiveness in York County Court from both God and the family of the man he fatally stabbed in 2017 during a scuffle on a York City street.

"I'm not a bad person," he said through a Spanish-language translator on Wednesday, Oct. 3. "I know what it is to lose a relative you love so dearly. ... I want to respectfully apologize to the relatives, his wife and children, with all sincerity for what happened."

Castro-Oquendo, 32, of York City, cried throughout the hearing, as did his family members and those of his victim, Lester Cortes-Cotto.

Jose Castro-Oquendo

He asked presiding Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock for mercy.

"I was not thinking of harming him," he said of the victim.

The judge sentenced Castro-Oquendo to seven to 14 years in state prison and gave him credit for the 450 days he's already spent locked up.

Two relatives and a family friend spoke in court on Castro-Oquendo's behalf and also expressed sympathy for the victim's family.

The defendant's sister, Ruth Evelyn Castro, told them, "I'm deeply sorry for what happened," and for what the Cotto family is going through.

Family 'destroyed': Hilda Cotto spoke in court about Cortes-Cotto, 22, of York City, who was her nephew.

"All he did was work," she said. "The purpose of his life was just to live for his daughter."

She said she harbors no ill feelings toward her nephew's killer and urged him to turn to God.

"This loss is not the loss of just one person," Cotto said. "My entire family is destroyed."

Defense attorney Seamus Dubbs noted that his client has always accepted responsibility for his actions and didn't start the confrontation with Cortes-Cotto, who had a gun.

Trebilcock said he tried to find "some underlying rationale for what occurred that night," and he said Castro-Oquendo seems to have substance-abuse issues. The judge noted that the defendant was drinking heavily the night of the killing and has a DUI from 2011.

'Snootful of liquor': Castro-Oquendo was setting himself up for failure with his immature behavior — "running the streets at 1:30 a.m. with a weapon in his pocket while drunk" and "living a life of excess," Trebilcock said.

Still, it was clear his remorse is genuine, according to the judge.

"I have no doubt ... that the defendant is probably a good person when he's not at a bar at 1:30 in the morning ... with a snootful of liquor," the judge said, and noted that Castro-Oquendo comes from "a fine family ... people of principle, people of faith."

"So he should know better."

Castro-Oquendo "needs time to think about who he's going to be when he gets out (of prison)," Trebilcock said. "Mr. Cotto is not going to have that opportunity."

Dubbs said exactly what happened during the deadly confrontation will likely never be known.

The background: Castro-Oquendo was involved in an altercation of some sort with Cortes-Cotto's friend several hours before he and Cortes-Cotto scuffled in the first block of East Maple Street about 1:30 a.m. July 9, 2017, Dubbs said.

A confrontation erupted between the two men after Castro-Oquendo felt "disrespected" by a look he believed the victim gave him, court documents state, and he punched the victim in the face.

One of Castro-Oquendo's brothers joined in the tussle, York City Police have said.

It was during the struggle that Castro-Oquendo fatally stabbed Cortes-Cotto, first assistant district attorney Jen Russell has said.

At some point during the struggle, Cortes-Cotto's gun was fired, but details are scant, officials have said.

Missing gun: It remains unclear who fired the gun, which Russell said has never been found.

Castro-Oquendo pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on Sept. 4, according to court records; charges of first- and third-degree murder were dropped.

He and his brother fled the scene before police arrived, according to court records. The brother initially was charged with the homicide, but those charges were later withdrawn, court records state.

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

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 or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.