The Point Breeze man who fatally punched another man while both were walking their dogs in a Southwark dog park in January 2019 was sentenced Wednesday to two to five years in state prison.
Matthew Oropeza, 25, who in March pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor, broke down while addressing Common Pleas Court Judge Glenn Bronson near the end of a two-hour hearing. Seventeen relatives and friends gave emotional victim-impact statements about the death of Drew Justice, 38.
“I let the community down, I let this family down,” said Oropeza, who called himself “a lover, not a fighter.”
“There’s good in me. I love my son more than the world, and I know they loved Drew equally if not more. ... I’m sorry. I’m wrong, and I’m trying to do the best I can to make things right,” he added, alluding to his guilty plea.
Bronson questioned whether Oropeza had been charged with a lesser crime than his conduct warranted. “This behavior in my opinion is not typical of that charge,” he said, noting that four days before the defendant punched Justice, he had threatened another man in the same dog park.
“That really just shows a sense of entitlement, antisocial, aggressive behavior of someone who could not take the fact that someone had the temerity to ask him to abide by the law,” Bronson said.
The judge bemoaned the fact that the crime has left some with the feeling that they can’t “enjoy a public park without some outrageous thing like this happening.”
As part of the plea deal, the District Attorney’s Office dropped charges of making terroristic threats, simple assault, and reckless endangerment.
Oropeza, of the 1600 block of South 16th Street, had been free on $75,000 bail since his arrest on Jan. 10, 2019. After the hearing, he was taken into custody by the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office.
His deadly clash with Justice happened Jan. 5, 2019, in Gold Star Park. Authorities said Oropeza punched Justice after Justice complained that Oropeza’s two dogs were unleashed. The punch caused Justice to fall backward and hit the ground. He died shortly afterward.
Days before the fatal punch, Oropeza had a verbal spat with another man at the same park, also about his dogs not being leashed, Assistant District Attorney Danielle Burkavage told Bronson.
“Had the defendant followed the rules, Drew Justice would still be here,” she said. After landing the blow, “he went about his life with his family that night as if nothing happened,” she said.
Burkavage also cited a 2016 incident in which Oropeza was charged with disorderly conduct after he shoved a man outside a bar on MacDade Boulevard in Delaware County. That victim suffered facial injuries.
Oropeza was arrested there on drug charges after police found six small baggies of a substance suspected to be cocaine. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a nonconfinement diversionary program, according to court records.
Among those who spoke on behalf of Justice, most via Zoom, were his parents, three brothers, sister, three sisters-in-law, a cousin, and friends. They said Justice loved the outdoors, Italy, and his large and tight-knit family and circle of friends. He was a great grill master who dreamed of opening a food truck, they said, and was three months shy of getting married and moving to the suburbs.
“Sadness and depression follows me each day," his father, Roger, said. “Parents are not supposed to bury their children.”