Appeals court orders new trial in I-83 body-dumping case
A state appeals court has overturned the 2017 conviction of a man found guilty of helping to dump a human body along Interstate 83 in southern York County.
Pennsylvania's Superior Court determined a York County trial judge erred when he allowed prosecutors to add heroin-dealing charges to Luis Felix Quinones' body-dumping case about five months after Quinones was first arrested.
"The resulting prejudice to (Quinones) is clear," according to the appeals court's opinion, dated Tuesday, Dec. 11. "The events which led to the abuse of corpse and related charges had absolutely no nexus to (Quinones) being a drug dealer. ...
"Therefore, we vacate Appellant's judgment of sentence and remand for a new trial with instruction to the trial court to sever the charges of PWID (possession with intent to deliver) and possession of drug paraphernalia from the charges set forth in the original (case)."
The case was prosecuted by then-District Attorney Tom Kearney.
"We are in the process of reviewing the court's opinion in order to determine our next course of action," said Kyle King, spokesman for the York County District Attorney's Office.
Trial defense attorney Rick Robinson, who filed the Superior Court appeal on behalf of Quinones, said his client is happy about the ruling.
"We have another opportunity to hopefully vindicate Mr. Quinones," Robinson said.
In the appeal he filed to Superior Court, Robinson wrote: "Appellant submits the sole motivation for the district attorney to want the amendments was clearly so Appellant's character could be tarnished as a heroin dealer. This is especially true given the current climate regarding heroin in York County and throughout the Commonwealth."
A month before Quinones' trial, Robinson argued to presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry M. Ness that adding the charges would be prejudicial and asked that the drug charges be severed from the body-dumping charges.
Ness ruled that combining the cases did not amount to "overwhelming" prejudice, court documents state.
The background: Quinones, 30, of Brooklyn, New York, is a heroin dealer who sometimes slept at the home of his associate, marijuana dealer Kevin "Blocks" Brightful, according to the Superior Court opinion.
Brightful, 30, fatally shot Shannon Martin in Brightful's former home in the first block of East Cottage Place in York City on Aug. 11, 2016.
Brightful didn't stand trial for murder or manslaughter because he was justified in shooting Martin, prosecutors have said.
Martin, 36, was armed with a .40-caliber handgun when he broke into Brightful's home to rob the man, court documents state.
During the home invasion, Martin scuffled with Quinones and fired one shot, documents state. Brightful then fatally shot Martin, prosecutors have said.
Brightful and Quinones put Martin's body in a trash can, drove it to a wooded area off Seaks Run Road along Interstate 83 in Springfield Township and dumped it there, state police have said.
Someone driving on Interstate 83 spotted the body the morning of Aug. 12, 2016, and called 911, police said.
Confessed, cooperated: Brightful confessed to police five days later, after state troopers tracked him down.
In April 2018, he was sentenced to four to eight years in state prison after pleading guilty to being a convicted felon in illegal possession of a firearm, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence.
He testified against Quinones, who was found guilty by a jury in July 2017 of abuse of a corpse, carrying a firearm without a license, conspiracy to abuse a corpse, heroin possession with intent to deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.
In August 2017, Judge Ness sentenced Quinones to five to 10 years in state prison.
As Quinones was awaiting trial — and about five months after he was charged in the body-dumping case — police conducted a second search of Brightful's vehicle and found a stash of heroin and drug paraphernalia hidden in the wheel well, according to the Superior Court opinion.
Prosecutors theorized the drugs belonged to Quinones because Brightful, who cooperated with authorities, said he was unaware it had been hidden there.
Third man jailed: A third man also is serving prison time for his role in Martin's death.
Terrence Lavelle Wintermyers, 34, is serving a state prison sentence of 21 months to 3½ years after pleading guilty in June 2018 to charges of burglary and conspiracy to commit that offense.
Wintermyers drove Martin to Brightful's home knowing Martin was armed with a gun and intended to rob the people there, according to state police. He then acted as lookout for Martin, who believed Brightful had cash and marijuana in his home, police said.
After Martin's death, his family told police that Wintermyers feigned "excessive and premature" concern that Martin was missing and even called local hospitals and prisons pretending to search for Martin, police have said.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.