Crime & Courts

Prosecutors will not seek death sentence for defendants in ‘Top Model’ killings

Emmanuel Rangel faces a possible death penalty. He’s been accused of four drug-related killings
Emmanuel Rangel faces a possible death penalty. He’s been accused of four drug-related killings

Mecklenburg prosecutors said Thursday morning they will not seek the death penalty against Emmanuel Rangel and three other defendants accused in four killings in February.

The case has drawn widespread attention outside of Charlotte for two reasons:

▪ Rangel, 19, was granted protective immigration status two years ago despite being included in a federal database of gang members, prompting concern from some members of Congress.

▪ One of the victims was Mirjana Puhar, 19, who was a contestant on the popular TV show “America’s Next Top Model” last year.

Prosecutors’ decision not to seek the death penalty affects Rangel, Emily Isaacs, Edward Sanchez and David Lopez.

Death penalty prosecutions have become rare in Mecklenburg and elsewhere in the state court system. Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray says he reserves the status for extreme crimes that shock the community.

Around the country, death penalty bans now exist in 19 states, with Nebraska’s legislature passing its ban with a dramatic veto override vote earlier this week. Efforts to execute criminals on death row have stalled nationally in the face of growing concerns about the fairness of death penalty convictions as well as difficulties with lethal injection methods and expensive court proceedings.

In Charlotte, federal prosecutors recently filed potential death penalty cases against almost a dozen suspected members of separate gangs. Defendants face various racketeering charges, including murder.

In the case in court on Thursday, Rangel is accused of four counts of first-degree murder stemming from two attacks that were two days apart. He also faces charges of attempted murder and robbery.

▪ Rosool Jaleel Harrell, 22, of Charlotte, was found fatally shot outside a Matthews hotel on Feb. 22. Another man was seriously wounded.

▪ Two days later, the bodies of Jonathan Cosme Alvarado, 23, Jusmar Isiah Gonzaga-Garcia, 21, and Puhar were found in a home not far from uptown.

Police say the triple slaying stemmed from a dispute over drugs and that Rangel knew the victims.

Sanchez, 19, also is charged with four counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and robbery. Isaacs, 18, is accused of first-degree murder and attempted murder. She and Sanchez were captured in Texas.

A fourth defendant, David Lopez, 19, also is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the triple slaying along with robbery. He surrendered to police in March.

Rangel became part of a Capitol Hill debate last month when congressional Republicans discovered that he received protective immigration status despite an apparent gang background. Earlier this month, immigration officials acknowledged that Rangel had been wrongly included in President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA.

Gordon: 704-358-5095

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