- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

EASTON, Pa. (AP) - An eastern Pennsylvania man has been sentenced to eight to 16 years in a murder-for-hire plot that prosecutors said targeted witnesses in a case against him.

Rene Figueroa, 35, pleaded no contest Friday in Northampton County Court to a homicide solicitation charge in a plea agreement with prosecutors.

The sentence will run concurrently to the 15½ to 31 years Figueroa is already serving in a December 2012 gun battle outside a Puerto Rican social club in south Bethlehem that killed a woman and injured five other people.

Jurors last fall convicted him of involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, receiving stolen property and carrying a firearm without a license, but rejected the first-degree murder conviction sought by prosecutors. A co-defendant was acquitted of all charges.

Authorities alleged that Figueroa tried to hire a fellow Northampton County prison inmate in 2013 to kill witnesses against him, offering $50,000 and help for the inmate in posting bail.

In a no contest plea, a defendant doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict; the plea is treated as equivalent to a guilty plea during sentencing.

Figueroa’s wife, Sonia Panell, is scheduled to be sentenced July 31 on a guilty plea in February in a separate murder-for-hire case. Prosecutors said Pannell, 38, tried to hire an Ohio man to kill three witnesses in Figueroa’s case, but he went to federal authorities and helped record her talking about the planned killings.

Authorities said in court documents that she showed him photos of the three targets, warned that they would be armed, took him on a three-hour tour of places they could be found and discussed equipment and payment arrangements.



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