Calling Eloy Romero Jr. “a cold-blooded murderer,” a judge on Thursday sentenced the son of a Fresno law enforcement officer to life in prison without parole for fatally shooting two men in the head in what the prosecution contended was a revenge killing.
Romero, 26, said nothing when Judge Houry Sanderson announced his punishment in Fresno County Superior Court.
He also did not acknowledge his father, a special agent supervisor with the California Department of Justice, who sat in the back of the courtroom with family members. The elder Romero has never spoken publicly about the case.
At the sentencing hearing, the judge hinted at Romero’s strained relationship with his father, saying many people come from broken families and have horrible childhoods.
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“But that is not an excuse,” Sanderson told Romero. “You could have been a productive member of society, but you did not choose that path.”
Romero was convicted in December of two counts of first-degree murder after a jury of six men and six women said Romero intentionally shot Joseph Blunt, a onetime shot-caller for the Norteños gang, and George Duarte, an active member of the gang, in May 2014. Because the jury found that Romero had committed two killings, he received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
His conviction hinged on circumstantial evidence since no one saw Romero shoot Blunt or Duarte. The judge, however, noted Thursday that the circumstantial evidence was powerful.
“It was so strong, so obvious,” Sanderson said.
In sentencing Romero, the judge also spoke about the defendant’s lengthy criminal record, which began when he was a juvenile and escalated into violent acts as an adult.
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 a member of the Vario East Side Reedley street gang, which is aligned with the larger Norteño street gang. Known as “Goober,” Romero’s long rap sheet includes arrests for guns, drugs and street terrorism, court records indicate.
In crafting a case against Romero, prosecutor William Lacy focused 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.
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 him. 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-morning hours of May 12, 2014. The crash scene was a peach orchard near Duarte’s home.
An autopsy later revealed that 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 said Romero was in the backseat when he put the muzzle of a gun two feet away from each man’s head and fired.
“Pop, pop. Pop, pop. Right in the back of the head, execution style,” Lacy told the jury.
When the car crashed, Romero lost his cellphone inside the vehicle, the prosecutor said. The cellphone had text messages between Romero 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.” After leaving the area, Romero returned to Reedley and was arrested two months after the killings.