Prison for 2 York men involved in parking-lot melee that ended in homicide

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
One man is dead and another in critical condition following an early morning shooting in the 500 block of N. George Street, Sunday, September 22, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Two of six defendants charged for a 2019 melee in a York City parking lot that ended with a man being fatally shot have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were sentenced to state prison.

A third pleaded no contest to a lesser offense last summer, and the criminal cases of the three remaining co-defendants are still active, according to court records.

Eric Joles Dejesus, 25, and Jonathan Romero, 23, both of York City, appeared before Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock on Wednesday and pleaded guilty to the first-degree felony of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault.

In exchange for their pleas, charges including first- and third-degree murder were dropped, as were counts of aggravated assault, court records state.

Carlos Alberto Torres, 25, of York City, pleaded no contest on June 12 to one felony count of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and was sentenced to three to six years in state prison, according to court records. Murder charges against him were dropped, records state.

Six people are charged in connection with the Sept. 22, 2019, homicide of Jose Nunez-Cruz in York City.
Top row, left to right: Carlos Torres, Eric Dejesus, Reynaldo Santana-Cruz
Bottom row, left to right: Jonathan Lee Romero, Ashley Mettic Jones, Jalitza Santos

They had been accused of the Sept. 22, 2019, homicide of Jose Nuñez-Cruz, who was gunned down in the parking lot of the 3rd Base Restaurant during a fight in which Dejesus and Romero were involved.

Romero, Dejesus and a third man — Reynaldo Santana-Cruz — were also charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault for the nonfatal shooting of a second man during the melee, Alberto Illarza-Esponda, who was shot by the same man who gunned down Nuñez-Cruz.

Shooter unknown: Romero's defense attorney, Bill Graff, said prosecutors have tried to identify the shooter but that the six co-defendants couldn't, or wouldn't, help.

"They all claim they don't know who the shooter is. … That's their story and they're sticking to it," he said. "I think they're either afraid of him or won't give him up."

Graff said his client and the other co-defendants went to the restaurant to get into a fight.

"They aren't guilty of murder," he said.

Romero drove the group to 3rd Base, according to Graff. He was sentenced to four to eight years in state prison and given credit for the 459 days he spent in York County Prison awaiting the resolution of his case, Graff said.

Dejesus was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison and given 419 days' credit for time served, according to his defense attorney, public defender Matt Sembach.

"We believe that this is a fair resolution, given the circumstances. My client was not the shooter," Sembach said. "This was an unfortunate series of events where it was a street fight (in which someone was fatally shot)."

The York County District Attorney's Office declined comment Wednesday.

Santana-Cruz, 23, Jalitza Santos, 29, and Ashley Mettic Jones, 24, all of York City, remain charged in the case.

Santana-Cruz is charged with first- and third-degree murder, plus other offenses. Santos and Jones are charged with three counts each of aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit that offense.

The background: Nuñez-Cruz was 24 and lived in Dallastown, according to his obituary, which states he was a graduate of William Penn Senior High School and loved riding ATVs and motorcycles.

He and Illarza-Esponda were inside 3rd Base Restaurant when Santana-Cruz walked in and began staring at the men, York City Police have said. A short time later, Santos and Torres came in and also started staring at the victims, documents state.

A confrontation happened inside the restaurant, but both groups of people left the restaurant and spilled into the parking lot, after which employees locked the door, police said.

Video surveillance of the parking lot showed that the altercation ended once the groups were in the parking lot but reignited for some reason, documents state.

"Santos can be heard yelling, 'My boy(s) are coming,' while making hand gestures … in the form of a gun and several hand claps," court documents state.

One man is dead and another in critical condition following an early morning shooting in the 500 block of N. George Street, Sunday, September 22, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

It appeared the confrontation was ending again, until Santana-Cruz said something to Nuñez-Cruz and more words were exchanged, police said.

Several people involved got into fighting stances, at which point four others — Dejesus, Romero, Jones and the unidentified shooter — joined the fight, documents state.

"It is clear from the video that the four individuals arrived to assist co-defendants Santana-Cruz and Santos in the assault on (the) victims," documents state.

'General melee': Dejesus sucker-punched Nuñez-Cruz in the face, at which point "all parties engage in a general melee," according to court documents.

During the fight, Torres waved and called out to the shooter, who ran over to him and shot at Nuñez-Cruz several times, striking him in the head, according to police.

The shooter then pointed his gun at a third person, who raised his hands and backed away, police said.

That's when the shooter pointed his 9 mm handgun at Illarza-Esponda, who raised his hands and retreated but was shot anyway, documents state.

Illarza-Esponda suffered at least one gunshot wound to the abdomen and was rushed to York Hospital in a private vehicle, police said.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.

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