U.S. Court denies inmates’ appeal in 2004 murder-robbery over $10

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Andy Rivera-Rodriguez

LANCASTER, Pa. –  A prison inmate serving a life term for a murder and robbery 13 years ago in Lancaster City was denied his latest appeal of his conviction. Andy Rivera-Rodriguez was 21 when he and a co-defendant plotted and then carried out the robbery and murder of 22-year-old Ryan Gardina, found dead in a city alley in January 2004.

Rivera-Rodriguez brought Gardina to the co-defendant and plotted the murder with the co-defendant as they rode in Gardina’s car. Gardina fled an initial stabbing in an alley off South Queen Street, but was caught and held down by Rivera-Rodriguez. Gardina was fatally stabbed. Rivera-Rodriguez and his co-defendant, Esteban Torres-Sanchez, stole $10 from Gardina and Gardina’s car.

After the killing, city police stopped Rivera-Rodriguez and Torres-Sanchez in Gardina’s car. Also, Gardina’s family reported him missing. His body was found in the alley off South Queen Street, near Torres-Sanchez’s home.

Rivera-Rodriguez was convicted of first-degree murder and related charges and sentenced to life in prison, plus 23 to 46 years.

He agreed to a nonjury trial in exchange for the Commonwealth not pursuing the death penalty at a jury trial. A Lancaster County judge convicted Rivera-Rodriguez on all charges.

In his latest appeal, Rivera-Rodriguez, now 35, argued that he was not eligible for the death penalty due to his “intellectual disabilities,” and so his trial counsel were ineffective for advising him to take the agreement and proceed to a nonjury trial. He also cited a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bans the execution of those with intellectual disabilities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently denied the appeal, finding that given the state of the law, prior findings of the trial court regarding Rivera-Rodriguez’s mental capacity, and the Commonwealth’s evidence that he did not meet the standard for intellectual disability it was not unreasonable for counsel to advise Rivera-Rodriguez to accept the Commonwealth’s offer.

Assistant District Attorney Ande Gonzalez represented the Commonwealth in the appeal both in the United States District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

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