Alfonso Sanchez was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing two people during a drug feud. But three years ago he got a reprieve when a county judge ordered a retrial because prosecutors had withheld relevant DNA evidence.
After more legal wrangling, including a failed appeal to Superior Court to try to get the case thrown out, Sanchez was given a new court date: March 23.
But the 38-year-old will have to wait longer, after Bucks County President Judge Wallace H. Bateman this week suspended all jury trials through April 14 amid concern about the coronavirus.
Sanchez’s case was already complicated given the arrangements that had to be made with witnesses who have moved to other parts of the country, according to Sanchez’s attorney, Niels Eriksen.
Court administrators have not set a new date, but it likely won’t be until early summer.
“We got a strong indication that it was being continued last week because witnesses needed to make airline arrangements and be flown in,” Eriksen said Tuesday. “The court was proactive in advising us early that it was being continued.”
Deputy District Attorney Antonetta Stancu, the lead prosecutor in the case, declined to comment on the pending trial.
In October 2007, prosecutors say, Sanchez shot Lisa Marie Diaz, 27, and Mendez Thomas Jr., 22, in the head at point-blank range because Diaz owed him money for cocaine. Sanchez, then 25, went on the run after the killing, but police caught him days later.
Steven Miranda, who accompanied Sanchez to Thomas’ apartment in the Bucks Landing complex in Warminster, was convicted of two counts of homicide and sentenced to two consecutive life terms, according to court records.
At Sanchez’s trial, his lawyer contended that Miranda, Diaz’s boyfriend, was the shooter. The jury was unpersuaded and found Sanchez guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. County Judge Alan M. Rubenstein then sentenced him to death, and Gov. Tom Corbett signed Sanchez’s execution warrant in 2015.
His lawyers appealed the conviction to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict. In a further appeal in federal court, Sanchez’s attorney contended that the trial prosecutor had improperly attacked Sanchez’s credibility and presented facts he knew to be false.
While reviewing the case for the appeal, Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub discovered that in 2008, prosecutors had failed to turn over key lab reports of DNA testing, including one that showed that DNA evidence found under Diaz’s fingernails matched Miranda’s.
While prosecutors acknowledge that the DNA evidence should have been turned over to defense lawyers, they maintain that Sanchez pulled the trigger.
Across the region, criminal trials and other court proceedings have been delayed because of worry about the global pandemic. As with Bucks County, Philadelphia court officials have suspended all new civil and criminal trials for at least two weeks.
That news hit hard for Msgr. William J. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Lynn’s retrial on a child-endangerment charge related to his handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests had been scheduled to begin Monday.
When Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright announced that she was postponing the proceedings until next January amid concern about the virus because “there are no jurors,” Lynn’s lawyer Thomas Bergstrom protested.
“My client was charged in 2011,” he said. “If we go forward with this date, he’ll have been dealing with this for nearly a decade."