State High Court Vacates Death Sentence In Officer's Slaying
Sep. 20, 1995
PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The state Supreme Court overturned the death sentence Tuesday for a drug dealer convicted of killing a police officer, saying his attorney should have objected when the prosecutor called his client a ``leech on society.''
Michael ``Spock'' LaCava's conviction was upheld and he will face a new sentencing hearing.
During the sentencing phase of LaCava's 1991 trial, Assistant District Attorney Joel Rosen equated LaCava with the downfall of society, calling him a ``leech on society ... who sucks the life blood out of our community.''
LaCava was convicted in the 1990 shooting death of Officer Joaquin ``Jack'' Montijo, 35, the first Latino officer to die in the line of duty in Philadelphia.
During the trial, LaCava told the jury he was a drug dealer, and that he was high when he ``accidentally'' shot the officer. He also said he fired in self defense.
The jury convicted LaCava of first-degree murder after six hours of deliberation. It was during the trial's sentencing phase the next day that Rosen delivered the address:
``Can you imagine being one of the decent people on Fairhill Street who has to live there?'' Rosen said. ``... I mean, we kept hearing the defense about how the neighborhood has changed. Sure it's changed. It's changed because of people like him. They are the ones who wreck the neighborhood.''
In his decision Tuesday, Justice Ronald L. Castille found that Rosen's comments had prejudiced the jury. ``The sole purpose of the prosecutor's comments was to attempt to turn the jury's sentencing of (LaCava) into a plebiscite on drugs and drug dealers and their destructive effect on society.''
LaCava's attorney should have objected to Rosen's comments, Castille wrote. By not doing so, LaCava's attorney was ineffective and LaCava should be resentenced.
The appeal to the Supreme Court was automatic under state law.