Judge Makes Fatal One-Word Mistake

By William Vogeler, Esq. on March 14, 2019 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One word changed the course of convicted murderer Noel Montalvo's life.

One word demanded that he get a retrial in a double-homicide case. That one word was missing from jury instructions in his first trial.

The judge told jurors that if prosecutors failed to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, then the defendant must be guilty. The missing word was "not."

"Not" Guilty

Judge Sheryl Dorney knew the right words, but misspoke at trial. Jurors naturally convicted Montalvo of first- and second-degree murder.

Montalvo was on New York's death row when he got the word that he would get a second chance. But chances are he's not going anywhere soon.

Judge Michael Bortner, who reviewed the case after Dorney passed away, said it was "clearly a simple example of a jurist misspeaking during the lengthy process of instructing a jury." He ordered a new trial.

Meanwhile, Montalvo's brother Milton Montalvo was not so one-word lucky. He was also convicted in the crimes, but in a separate trial.


According to prosecutors, the Montalvo brothers forced their way in the apartment of Miriam Ascencio in 1998. Then they stabbed her and a male companion to death.

Ascencio had a broken nose, and had been nearly decapitated. The male victim had his fingers nearly severed.

Milton Montalvo, who had been in a relationship with Ascension, was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder. His case is on appeal.

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