Criminal Justice

One-word error requires retrial of man convicted of double murder, judge rules

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A Pennsylvania death-row inmate is entitled to a new trial because of a one-word error in a judge’s instruction on reasonable doubt, a judge has ruled.

Judge Michael Bortner of York County granted the new trial to Noel Montalvo, who was convicted in 2003 in the 1998 stabbing deaths of two people, the York Daily Record reports. The Associated Press also has coverage.

In his Feb. 11 opinion, Bortner said the trial judge had told jurors their verdict “must be guilty” if prosecutors failed to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The trial judge should have said “must be not guilty.”

Bortner said the error was “clearly a simple example of a jurist misspeaking during the lengthy process of instructing a jury.” But Montalvo was nonetheless entitled to a new trial to determine his guilt, Bortner said.

Bortner also said Montalvo was entitled to a new sentencing hearing, in part because his lawyer had admitted he “really did not prepare for” the penalty phase of trial. The defense lawyer was later convicted of tax crimes and disbarred in New Jersey.

Montalvo and his brother, Milton Montalvo, were both sentenced to death for the murders of Montalvo’s estranged common-law wife and her friend, according to prior coverage from Both men fled after the murders. Noel Montalvo was living under an assumed name when he was arrested in 2002 in New Jersey.

Milton Montalvo has since been awarded a new sentencing hearing.

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