Poaches Convicted of Figueroa Murders
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - October 17, 2006 (WPVI) -- A man was convicted Tuesday of strangling his pregnant girlfriend, allegedly because she would not have an abortion.
In a nonjury trial, Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina found Stephen Poaches, 27, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 24-year-old LaToyia Figueroa and her fetus.
Poaches waived his right to appeal and, in exchange, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. He was given an automatic life sentence with no parole.
Figueroa was five-months pregnant when she disappeared in 2005. Her case drew national attention after a blogger asked national news organizations why the disappearances of a white woman had drawn a lot of attention while that of Figueroa - who was black and Hispanic - had not.
The mother of a 7-year-old girl, she had been missing for more than a month when a police detective acting on a tip followed Poaches to the lot in August 2005 and found her body.
A prosecutor said Poaches wanted Figueroa to have an abortion, but she refused.
"He did not want this child to be born," Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega said.
In his closing argument, Vega maintained that Poaches had planned the killing for some time.
"He planned it. He did it. And he almost got away with it," Vega said.
Poaches' defense attorney, Michael Coard, argued at trial that his client should be convicted only of voluntary manslaughter, not murder. Coard had said that Poaches acted out of "sudden and intense passion" and not "malice, ill will, or a hardness of heart."
After the sentence was issued, however, Coard said it was just. "I've got to concede that justice was served in this case," he said.
Poaches, a bespectacled, slightly built man, declined to address the court.
"You do deserve to be punished, Poaches, for what you did and you know it," Figueroa's aunt, Stephanie Stephenson, told Poaches in court. "I forgive you for what you did."
In a statement to police, Poaches allegedly said he started choking Figueroa after she struck him in the face and shoulder during an argument in his West Philadelphia apartment on July 18, 2005. He had accompanied her to a medical checkup hours before.
"I kind of freaked out when she stopped hitting," he said, according to police. "She was dead. That was it."
Poaches told detectives that he tried to move her body from the lot in Chester, about 10 miles outside Philadelphia, because he was afraid police would find the remains.
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