Tuesday, July 15, 2008
S.C. Upholds Death Sentence for Man Aged 19 at Time of Murders
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentence for a Los Angeles man who was 19 years old when he murdered two men in separate incidents hours apart in 1994.
Justice Joyce L. Kennard, writing for the high court, said Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Charles Horan properly weighed aggravating and mitigating factors when he adopted the jury’s death penalty verdict in the case of Gerardo Romero.
When Romero was sentenced for killing Eugene “Temper” Afable and Reynaldo Hau, Horan acknowledged that his age at the time of the crimes was a mitigating factor. But that was “insubstantial” in comparison with the seriousness of the crimes, the judge said, concluding that Romero “deserves what [the jury] came up with as far as the court can see, 19 or not.”
The defendant, he said, was a “predator.”
Afable, 17, was killed by a single bullet fired to the back of his head as he was watching videos at a video store at the intersection of Temple St. and Rampart Blvd. on the night of Oct. 9, 1994. About three hours later, Hau was killed while sitting in his brother-in-law’s car, parked in the driveway of a residence on Bonnie Brae St., where he, his brother-in-law, and three other men were visiting.
Witnesses testified they saw Romero, or someone who looked like him, leaving the scene of the Afable shooting. The men who were at the Bonnie Brae St. residence said they were robbed by two armed men, and that one of them—apparently Romero—shot Hau while the others fled.
The robbers took Hau’s watch along with that of his brother-in-law, Gabriel Cruz.
Police said that once they identified Romero as a suspect in the shootings, based on photo identification, they went to the residence he shared with his parents and obtained his consent to a search of his bedroom. There they found Cruz’s watch, along with a .380-caliber ammunition clip with two live rounds in it, a plastic video cassette container that had defendant’s name written on it and contained several .380-caliber rounds of ammunition, loose .380- and .22-caliber rounds, and two baseball caps, one with the letters L.A. on the front and the other bearing the words “WS Rockwood.”
There was evidence that Romero belonged to the Rockwood gang, while Afable belonged to the Temple Street gang. The house on Bonnie Brae St. was in Temple gang territory, and a gang expert testified that both killings were gang-related.
The murder weapon was never recovered, but there were .380 casings at both scenes, and an expert testified that both victims were shot with the same gun.
Jurors found Romero guilty of first degree murder with robbery-murder and multiple-murder special circumstances.
In the penalty phase, prosecutors depicted Romero as a perpetually violent man, who had been previously convicted of attempted robbery; had swung an ax at an apartment manager who caught him and another man spray painting the building; had fired several shots at the Bonnie Brae street residence six days before the murder, using the same gun later used in the killings; and had been involved in a pair of serious attacks on other inmates, one in the courthouse lockup and another at the jail in which the victim had been beaten for four house.
The defense presented testimony that Romero had an IQ of 77 and had been traumatized during childhood when his family was evicted and a friend died of cancer.
On appeal, the defense argued that Horan made a number of errors in denying the automatic motion to deny the penalty verdict, citing, among other things, Horan’s statement that while the defendant’s age was a mitigating factor, times had changed since he was the defendant’s age.
Horan, who was 47 at the time of the 1998 trial, explained:
“If you were my age at age 19, you would have needed my parents’ permission to do almost everything. I was clueless as to almost everything and most 19 year olds are. But things have changed and you see a situation now where people 14, 15, 16, 18, et cetera, have evolved into predators at a very young age for whatever reason. And Mr. Romero clearly fits into the category.”
The defense argued that Horan improperly compared Romero to other young criminals instead of limiting his consideration of the motion to the evidence presented at trial, as required.
“Not so,” Kennard wrote. “The trial court’s reference to changing attitudes and conduct of youth was not a comparison to other potential capital cases. There was no irrationality or arbitrariness in the trial court’s comments.”
Attorneys on appeal were Stephen M. Lathrop of Rolling Hills Estates, by appointment of the court, for the defendant and Deputy Attorney General Marc A. Kohm for the prosecution.
The case is People v. Romero, 08 S.O.S. 4090.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company