Co-defendants at first, suspects in attempted murder now ordered into separate cases

Aimee Ambrose
York Dispatch

Two men charged together with shooting a woman and leaving her for dead two years ago will be prosecuted separately in York County, with one of the men set to stand trial in a month.

Common Pleas Judge Gregory Snyder sided with assistant district attorneys Wednesday after hearing arguments that centered on whether to pit one man's statement against the other, or whether to hold him in check.

“We have concluded that the motion to sever should be granted, and it will be granted,” Snyder ruled.

Roberto Rodriguez III, 21, and Francisco Torres Rivera, 30, both of York, are each charged with counts of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

According to the case against them, they allegedly drove a woman, Meredith Keltner, then 27, to the area of Smyser and Indian Rock Dam roads in North Codorus Township on June 12, 2020. There, Keltner was forced out of Rodriguez’s car, and she was shot five times, apparently from behind as she walked away. A vehicle also apparently ran over her.

Meredith Keltner

A passerby later found her in the road, and Keltner survived her injuries.

Rodriguez was arrested about a month after the shooting. Torres Rivera was arrested on drug charges in Philadelphia a few days after Rodriguez and then transferred back to York County.

Torres Rivera and Rodriguez were on track to stand trial together until a few weeks ago, when the district attorney’s office asked to separate the cases, which would mean prosecuting each man individually.

Melanie Wiesman, a chief deputy district attorney, said Torres Rivera gave a statement to investigators incriminating himself and Rodriguez and different from Rodriguez’s account. Wiesman said Torres Rivera would be considered a cooperating witness in the case.

Roberto Rodriguez III

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Rodriguez’s attorneys, Matthew Sembach and Catherine Law, objected to the motion, leading to a debate covering several points throughout the hearing.

At the heart of the hearing, Wiesman argued if the cases are kept together, she wouldn’t be able to call Torres Rivera as a witness or use a statement he gave as evidence at trial. She pointed out he could refuse to testify during a joint trial — potentially running afoul of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 1968 case, Bruton v. United States — which would violate Rodriguez’s constitutional right to cross-examine his accusers.

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Sembach raised several points for keeping the cases joined, including disputing whether an issue with the Bruton rule existed. Central to his and Law’s argument was a concern that  Torres Rivera’s cooperation with the DA’s office could end up prejudicing a jury against Rodriguez.

Law argued that with separate cases the DA’s office may appear to put off prosecuting Torres Rivera’s case, possibly until after Rodriguez’s trial. She said since prosecutors have so far apparently not offered or discussed any consideration for Torres Rivera for his testimony, they wouldn’t be able to tell a jury such discussions have occurred during Rodriguez’s trial.

“If they’re severed, we can’t argue to the jury he’s getting that consideration,” Law said.

Wiesman noted no offers have been made to Torres Rivera.

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Erin Thompson, Torres Rivera’s attorney, agreed no consideration has been discussed, but she said she hopes there will be some kind of consideration for his testimony. Thompson also pushed for separating the cases.

“We are in agreement with the state’s motion to sever these cases.  We don’t believe it’s in our best interest to be tried with Mr. Rodriguez given Mr. Torres Rivera’s position on the events of that night,” Thompson said.

After considering the arguments, Judge Snyder sided with Wiesman by finding a potential conflict with the Bruton decision would exist by keeping the cases joined. He then ruled them separated.

Snyder also noted Rodriguez’s trial is scheduled to begin March 28.

— Aimee Ambrose can be reached at or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.