Sentence in shooting death upheld

Judge’s original opinion called ‘well-reasoned’

The conviction and lengthy prison sentence imposed on Jorge Luis Gomez III of Altoona for the shooting death of another

man during a viewing party for the 2015 Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao title fight was upheld Monday by the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Gomez, 37, is serving a 10- to 20-year sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill on charges of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of aggravated assault and carrying a firearm without a license.

According to Gomez in a statement to police, there was “tension-like animosity” between himself and Kai Carter, 29, who were part of a large group at a home on the 100 block of South Eighth Street, to watch the May 2, 2015, boxing match.

After the fight, as Gomez was about to leave the party with his girlfriend and two children, he and Carter were on the back porch, and Carter “sucker-punched” Gomez with a blow to the head, Gomez said.

Stunned, Gomez stumbled, pulled a gun from his waist and, as he stated, fired several shots when Carter allegedly came toward him.

One of those shots partially severed the femoral artery in Carter’s leg, and he bled to death after running from the home.

Gomez claimed self-defense, but the prosecution argued that the shooting was not justified.

A jury found Gomez not guilty of murder and voluntary manslaughter after a five-day trial.

He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and the more serious charges of aggravated assault.

The defense, led by Altoona attorney Thomas M. Dickey, challenged the guilty verdicts by raising 14 issues on appeal, including arguments that President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle imposed a “manifestly excessive” sentence on Gomez, that Gomez was improperly sentenced

consecutively on the manslaughter and assault charges and that the prosecution failed to disprove the self-defense theory.

Doyle rejected the defense claims, and on Monday a three-judge Superior Court panel that included John Bender, Victor Stabile and Gene Strassburger, supported Doyle’s ruling.

In a rare decision, the Superior Court judges decided to adopt Doyle’s opinion as their own.

“We conclude that Judge Doyle’s extensive, well-reasoned opinion accurately disposes of the issues presented by (the defense),” the appeals court stated.

The defense in its appeal contended that the Blair County judge erred by focusing on punishing Gomez instead of his rehabilitation and that the consecutive sentences were “unreasonable.”

Doyle, in her 36-page opinion issued in 2017, defended her sentence, explaining that a judge must consider the safety of the public, the impact on the victim and the community and the rehabilitative needs of the defendant.

During sentencing, Doyle said she considered all of these factors.

She reported Gomez stated he did not mean to hurt the victim, that the ordeal was hard on his own family and he asked forgiveness from the victim’s mother.

But the judge also stated Gomez’s shooting of Carter was “irreversible and that an impulsive act with a gun destroys multiple lives.”

She also addressed the defense argument that the charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault merged by concluding that the two acts were different and explained her decision to sentence Gomez consecutively on the charges was legally permissible.

In addressing the self-defense contention, the judge explained that deadly force was not justified unless such force was necessary to protect Gomez from death or serious bodily injury.

The prosecution had the burden of showing that Gomez did not act in self-defense.

Doyle sided with the prosecution, stating Gomez did not have a “reasonable” belief he was in danger of death or bodily injury.

She stated that Gomez never suspected Carter was armed and no weapon attributable to Carter was found.

The judge further stated Carter threw only one punch and the only injury to Gomez was a swollen lip.

During the fray, Gomez told Carter “to back up” and then talked to him.

She stated, “there is sufficient evidence offered by the commonwealth that the defendant could have avoided the use of deadly force with complete safety by retreating through (a gate) and down the stairs into an alley.”

Instead, the judge noted, he brought a semi-automatic handgun to the party, which he had purchased in South Carolina and was unlicensed to carry in Pennsylvania, drew the weapon, took off the safety and chambered a bullet, then fired more than one shot.

“The evidence offered by the commonwealth is sufficient for a jury to support a conviction for involuntary manslaughter,” Doyle summed up.

When it came to the charge of aggravated assault, Doyle stated there was sufficient evidence that Gomez “consciously disregarded an unjustified and extremely high risk that his action might cause death or serious bodily injury.”

Dickey was unable to be contacted Wednesday.