(Update) Berks D.A. announces charges in 2 cold case murders (video)

Norman Vega, from poster at Berks County District Attorney's Office press conference.

READING — Eight years and nine months after her son was shot to death in a McDonald’s drive-thru, Berks County District Attorney John Adams thinks he may be able to provide Tina Stief with some closure.

“She has been an adamant advocate,” for reporting crime, Adams said. “I am so grateful that we might be able to provide some sense of justice to her.”

Norman Vega, now 30, was formally charged Thursday with the murder of Stief’s son, Jason, after a long collaborative investigation featuring the Reading Police Department, Berks County detectives, the district attorney’s office and Berks County’s grand jury program.

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Jason Stief was murdered Oct. 14, 2004, after he positively identified Hector Soto as one of the men who robbed and murdered Miguel Angel Colon almost two weeks earlier.

Stief had been at Colon’s house with his girlfriend and saw Colon robbed then run from the house with three gunmen pursuing him. Investigators said Stief told them he heard gunshots and found Colon dead on the 1300 block of Mulberry Street outside.

The information from Stief, who was just 20-years-old, eventually led to Soto’s conviction in 2007.

Soto is currently serving a life sentence in jail.

According to Adams, in 2005, a cell-mate of Vega’s informed detectives that he boasted of being the shooter in the McDonald’s murder that left Stief dead.

“Vega told the (cell-mate) that he was afraid of being identified by Stief in the home invasion and that is why he and Hector Soto conspired to have this murder committed,” Adams said.

Stief was shot multiple times in the head and Adams said Vega told one of his cell-mates that he ditched his gun “in the river.”

A case couldn’t be built against Vega from those jailhouse confessions alone roughly eight years ago, Adams said.

“This is a complicated case,” he said.

In Stief’s murder, Vega has been charged with murder of the first and third degrees, aggravated assault, retaliation against a witness, propulsion of a missile into an occupied vehicle and possessing an instrument of crime.

For his alleged role in Colon’s murder, Vega is charged with murder of the first, second and third degrees, robbery, burglary, criminal trespass, possessing an instrument of crime and criminal conspiracy.

Vega was arrested in jail where he’s serving time for what Adams believed may have been a parole violation.

A court document search revealed Vega has more than a dozen criminal arrests dating back to 2001 for a variety of offenses including illegal weapons charges, robbery and making terroristic threats. Many of those arrests occurred in Reading.

Adams told The Mercury Vega has been in and out of jail.

Tina, who sat in the auditorium on the second floor of the Berks County Social Services building for a press conference announcing the charges, was adamant she’d show up for all the legal proceedings for her son’s death.

“Court dates or hearings, I will be there,” she said. “People have to show up.”

She said her son would want more people to come forward in unsolved crimes and he wouldn’t want his death to discourage that.

Adams said it has been one of the main focuses of his administration to protect witnesses. When he took over the position in 2008, Adams said Stief’s unsolved case became a “priority” because he wasn’t effectively protected before Adams’ term.

“This was one case that just cried out to be solved,” Adams said. “It went to the very heart of our justice system, to have a witness murdered. That’s why we changed some policies to provide that extra protection for witnesses going forward.”

“It’s been frustrating for eight years and nine months knowing he was a commonwealth witness,” said Berks County Detective Harold Shenk, who helped lead the investigation.

Shenk called it a “team effort” bringing charges against Vega but said he isn’t relieved yet.

“I will hopefully be (satisfied) actually when we have a disposition in this case,” Shenk said. “I’m never satisfied until it’s over.”

Although Soto has been convicted and Vega may follow pending a trial, a third suspect tied specifically to the Colon murder continues to go free and Adams is hoping the public comes forward to help.

“We believe that there’s other people out there who have information on this case,” Adams said. “We’re asking them to come forward and to call the Berks County District Attorney’s Office detectives’ unit at 610-478-7171 or Crime Alert Berks County. We believe there’s additional information that people have obtained in our community.”

With Stief’s cold case possibly solved, Adams said it gives him some hope moving forward that others might be as well.

“I am optimistic,” Adams said. “We are optimistic that with this in the news again some other people will come forward and we’ll gather a lot more evidence. Sometimes people’s minds are jogged.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

EARLIER VERSION OF STORY

The Berks County District Attorney announced homicide charges were being filed in two cold cases in the county.

In a press conference at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, District Attorney John Adams said Norman Vega, 30, was being charged with homicide for the shooting death of two men, Miguel Colon and Jason Stief, in 2004 in Reading.

A grand jury presentment led to the charges being filed, according to Adams.

Check back here for updates on this story.