A Reedley man with three drunken-driving convictions was found guilty Thursday of second-degree murder for killing his girlfriend in a drunken-driving crash nearly three years ago on Highway 99 in Fresno.
The defendant, Angelito Amancio Romero, 49, wiped tears from his eyes when the verdict was announced in Fresno County Superior Court.
Family and friends of the victim, Jennifer Starr, also cried. For the past two weeks, they had come to court every day to ensure justice was done.
A jury of five men and seven women deliberated less than five hours before announcing its verdict. Romero now faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on April 20, prosecutor William “Bill” Lacy said.
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A jury of five men and seven women deliberated less than five hours before announcing its verdict. Angelito Amancio Romero now faces 15 years to life in prison when he is sentenced on April 20
During the trial, Lacy told the jury that Romero was heading south on Highway 99 after a night of drinking. He drove his van off the highway and struck a tree during the early hours of June 7, 2013. Starr, 38, and a passenger in the van, was killed. Testing determined that Romero’s blood-alcohol level had been 0.15 or nearly two times the legal limit to drive.
Romero and Starr, the mother of four children and a Fresno County eligibility worker, lived together in Reedley.
Court records say Romero was convicted of drunken driving in 2008, 1996 and in 1990.
He faced a murder charge – instead of a lesser charge of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated – because a judge in 2008 had warned him that if he got drunk and killed someone, he would face a murder charge under the California Supreme Court ruling in People vs. Watson. That ruling found that a second-degree murder charge could be brought against a drunken driver who acted in a reckless manner.
During the trial, Lacy told the jury that Romero signed court documents and told the judge that he understood the warning.
On the night of the crash, Lacy said, Romero came home from work around 4 p.m. and drank a few beers. He later took four or five beers with him as he and Starr drove to The Break Room, a pool hall in Fresno. At the pool hall, Romero drank more beer, and at one point, left the pool hall and went to a nearby bar to have a shot of hard liquor, the prosecutor said.
Romero’s defense attorney, Eric Green, said his client didn’t cause the deadly crash. Green said tests showed that Starr also was intoxicated; her blood-alcohol level was 0.16, or twice the legal limit to drive. Romero testified that he and Starr had an argument while driving home and Starr grabbed the steering wheel right before the van crashed.
Green said it was a tragic case because Starr lost her life and has children. “But my client has six kids who will never get to be with him,” he said.
We got justice and Jennifer got justice.
Julie Lucas, the victim’s older sister
After the verdict, Starr’s family and friends gathered to thank Lacy, a senior deputy district attorney, senior investigator David Medina of the District Attorney’s Office, and officer Chris Martorana of the California Highway Patrol, who investigated the deadly collision.
“You rock, Bill,” said Julie Lucas, the victim’s older sister.
They also had kind words for the jury.
“He (Romero) lied and we’re glad the jury saw through that,” Lucas said. “We got justice and Jennifer got justice.”