Pre-trial motions challenge murder charge against Rene Figueroa

Suspect involved in December shoot-out that killed woman

Posted: 4:49 PM EDT Jul 19, 2013

Pre-trial motions challenging a murder charge against  Rene Figueroa were filed Friday in Northampton County Court by Atty. Gary Asteak, Figueroa's lawyer.

Early in the morning on Dec. 3, a woman was killed and several other people were injured in a shoot-out outside the Puerto Rican Beneficial Society on East Third Street in Bethlehem.

A fight inside the Beneficial Society poured out into the streets and guns were drawn. Twenty-three-year-old Yolanda Morales got caught in the crossfire and died.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Figueroa, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire.

Figueroa, who was 32 at the time, is charged with shooting Morales.

Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli  said when someone commits a murder and bystanders could have been injured because of the spray of bullets, "that is considered an aggravating factor under our law and warrants potentially a death sentence."

He continued: "The other factor is that Morales was killed while Figueroa was allegedly shooting at someone else -- another felony."

In his pre-trail motions, Asteak  is challenging the sufficiency of evidence to support a murder charge. He explained he also is challenging the presence of aggravating circumstances "and therefore challenging the prosecution's intentions to pursue the death penalty."

Asteak said today's filings were just the first wave of pre-trial motions. A judge will set a hearing date on those motions. The actual trial is currently scheduled for December.

In addition to Figueroa, three other men were injured. One of them, Javier Rivera Alvarado, also was charged. Asteak said he is not representing Alvarado.