Eloy Romero Jr., the son of a Fresno law enforcement officer, was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder for fatally shooting two men in the head in what the prosecution contended was a revenge killing.
Romero, 26, cried when the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court. His father sat stoic in the back of the courtroom.
After deliberating 10 hours over three days, a jury of six men and six women said Romero intentionally shot Joseph Blunt, a one-time shot caller for the Norteños, and George Duarte, an active member of the gang, in May 2014.
Because the jury found true that Romero committed two first-degree killings, he faces mandatory life in prison without parole when he is sentenced on Jan. 14.
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“He took it pretty hard,” said Fresno attorney Scott Baly, who defended Romero.
The elder Romero, a special agent supervisor with the California Department of Justice, left the courtroom without commenting.
The trial hinged on circumstantial evidence since no one saw Romero shoot Blunt or Duarte. Prosecutor William Lacy, however, crafted a convincing case focusing on two pieces of evidence: Romero’s cellphone was discovered in Blunt’s car, and Romero made admissions to his mother-in-law that implicated him in the killings.
He took it pretty hard.
Defense attorney Scott Baly
Court records say Romero – who has tattoos of a clown’s face with flames on his left shoulder, a cross on his right shoulder and “Reedley” across his abdomen – is known as “Goober.” He has a long rap sheet that includes arrests for guns, drugs and street terrorism, burglary and possession of a stolen car.
Lacy said Romero was once a member of the Norteños, but he began to turn against the gang when a fellow gangster shot him in the buttocks in 2009. Romero believed Blunt had given the green light to a fellow gang member to shoot Romero.
Romero’s hatred intensified, Lacy said, when his mother, Socorro Perez, died in May 2013. Romero told others that the Norteño gang had murdered her. But Lacy said the claim was unfounded; Perez died of natural causes, or possibly from an overdose, he said.
Regardless of how she died, Perez’s death motivated her son to kill Blunt and Duarte around Mother’s Day, nearly a year after Perez’s death on May 9, 2013, at age 51, Lacy told the jury.
The California Highway Patrol initially reported that Blunt, 38, of Santa Clara, and Duarte, 40, of Reedley, died in a car accident at Buttonwillow and Jefferson avenues during the early hours of May 12, 2014. The crash scene is a peach orchard near Duarte’s home.
But during an autopsy, a Fresno County coroner discovered the two men had died of gunshot wounds: Blunt, who was driving, was shot twice in the right side of his head; Duarte was shot twice in the left side of his head. Lacy told the jury that the muzzle of the gun was two feet away from each man when it was fired.
“Pop, pop. Pop, pop. Right in the back of the head, execution style,” Lacy told the jury. He said Romero was in the backseat of the car when he shot the two men. When the car crashed, Romero lost his cellphone inside the vehicle, the prosecutor said.
Lacy told the jury that Romero’s cellphone had text messages between him and Blunt that said they were planning to get together in the late evening hours of May 11, 2014. After the killings, Romero, a frequent user of his cellphone, no longer used it, Lacy said. And before he left the area, according to Lacy, Romero told his mother-in-law: “I’m in trouble. I did something stupid. I need to leave town.”
Romero’s cellphone also contained “a selfie” of him and a photograph of a revolver that is similar to the one that was used to kill the victims, the prosecutor said.
After the killings, Romero went to Lancaster. He later returned to Reedley. On June 11, 2014, sheriff’s detectives, with the help of the U.S. Marshals Office and Reedley Police Department, found Romero hiding in a home on E Street near Ninth Street in Reedley. He tried to escape out the back door, but was caught and arrested.
In defending Romero, Baly said the cellphone was in Blunt’s car because Romero said he had sold it to Blunt. In addition, Baly argued that the crime scene was compromised when the CHP allowed the crash vehicle to be towed to a wrecking yard before it was thoroughly inspected. And Baly told the jury that Romero “had no reason to kill his friends.”