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Man gets life sentence in killing over Santeria

This news story was published on January 15, 2012.
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By Joseph A. Slobodzian, The Philadelphia Inquirer –

PHILADELPHIA — A North Philadelphia man convicted of killing a man after an argument over Santeria — the Caribbean religion that evolved from the West African beliefs of slaves and elements of Catholicism — was sentenced to life in prison Friday by a Philadelphia judge.

Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Christian Hernandez, 20, told Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart that he wanted to appeal the verdict in the May 29, 2009 shooting of Luis Freire, 55.

On Sept. 28, Minehart, sitting without a jury, found Hernandez guilty of first-degree murder and a weapons charge. Although Pennsylvania law mandates a life sentence without chance of parole, Minehart delayed the formal sentencing until after Hernandez had a mental health evaluation.

Minehart said the exam showed Hernandez had a history of drug abuse and a personality disorder but that he understood the sentencing process.

Hernandez did not comment on the crime itself and none of the victim’s relatives testified.

But Hernandez’s mother, Rosaria Fontanez, dropped to her knees at the bar of the court and, weeping, implored Minehart in Spanish not to sentence her son to life in prison.

Trial witnesses said Hernandez and Freire had argued over the merits of the different versions of Santeria they practiced.

Five days later, witnesses, said, Hernandez followed Freire as he walked down the street and shot him twice in the back of the head with a shotgun.

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