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[U] Commonwealth v. Coto

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 28, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA Appellee
v.
RAMONE STEPHAN COTO Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the PCRA Order December 12, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Criminal Division at No(s): CP-02-CR-0005352-2005, CP-02-CR-0005494-2005

BEFORE: PANELLA, J., OLSON, J., and WECHT, J.

MEMORANDUM

PANELLA, J.

Appellant, Ramone Stephan Coto, appeals from the order entered December 12, 2012, by the Honorable Lester G. Nauhaus, Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which denied Coto's petition filed pursuant to the Post Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). After review, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

We briefly summarize the pertinent facts of this case as follows. In February, 2005, Kevilin Middleton hosted a birthday party at his residence at which he arranged an exotic dancing performance. When the exoctic dancers arrived, a dispute arose over the dancers' appearance and Middleton ultimately refused to pay the dancers. After the distraught dancers made a frantic phone call, four armed men, including Coto, arrived at the residence, and commenced shooting. Middleton sustained multiple gunshot wounds and two others were killed. Middleton later identified Coto as the individual who shot him.

Coto was arrested and charged with two counts of murder in the second degree, [1] criminal attempt, [2] criminal conspiracy, [3] aggravated assault, [4] and burglary.[5] Coto claimed in a statement made to police that he never entered the party, but was intoxicated and had passed out in the back of a van while waiting to go home when the shooting occurred. Following a non-jury trial, at which Coto was tried jointly with his co-defendants, Coto was convicted of two counts of second degree murder and one count of burglary. On April 18, 2008, the trial court sentenced Coto to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment for the murder charges, and a consecutive three to six year term of imprisonment for burglary. On appeal, this Court affirmed Coto's judgment of sentence and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied allocatur. Commonwealth v. Coto, 998 A.2d 1009 (Pa. Super. 2010) (table), appeal denied, 610 Pa. 591, 20 A.3d 483 (2011).

On February 14, 2012, Coto filed a pro se PCRA petition. Counsel was subsequently appointed and an amended petition was filed on June 26, 2012. The PCRA court denied Coto's petition following a hearing on December 12, 2012. This timely appeal followed.

On appeal, Coto raises the following issues for our review:

I. Did the PCRA court err or abuse its discretion when it dismissed Appellant's PCRA Petition wherein Appellant alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to locate, interview and investigate witness William Brown, driver of the van used for transportation to Penn Hills on the night of the shooting at issue herein?
II. Is Appellant's sentence is [sic] illegal based on Appellant being sentenced to a period of life for Second Degree Murder and a consecutive period of incarceration at the Burglary count which should have merged for sentencing?

Appellant's Brief at 5.

Our standard of review of a PCRA court's denial of a petition for post-conviction relief is well-settled: We must examine whether the record supports the PCRA court's determination and whether the PCRA court's determination is free of legal error. See Commonwealth v. Hall, 867 A.2d 619, 628 (Pa. Super. 2005). The PCRA court's findings will not be disturbed unless there is no support for the findings in the certified record. See Commonwealth v. Carr, 768 A.2d 1164, 1166 (Pa. Super. 2001). Our scope of review is limited by the parameters of the PCRA. See Commonwealth v. Heilman, 867 A.2d 542, 544 (Pa. Super. 2005).

To determine whether the PCRA court erred in dismissing Coto's claim of ineffectiveness of counsel, we turn to ...


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