ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Court proceedings are set to begin this week in the trial of a man charged with shooting and killing a Rio Rancho police officer last year.
Attorneys will begin jury selection in a Los Lunas courtroom Tuesday, The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/2cfKD32).
The first-degree murder trial for 29-year-old Andrew Romero was moved from Sandoval County to 40 miles south in Valencia County because of extensive media coverage of the case.
Police say Romero fatally shot Officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner during a routine traffic stop in May 2015.
Tabitha Littles, who was driving the vehicle carrying Romero, pleaded guilty last month to harboring a felon and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Four other charges, including murder, were dropped in exchange for testimony against Romero.
Tom Clark, Romero’s attorney, indicated that Littles could offer important details when she takes the stand.
“We anticipate she’ll place Andrew in the car, and she’ll place Andrew with the gun,” Clark said. “She’s the one that’s going to testify that Andrew committed the shooting. That’s the basis of her testimony.”
Littles took the plea deal days after District Judge George Eichwald ruled that most of Romero’s statements to police could not be used at trial. Eichwald said most of the interview state police officers held with Romero in the wake of his arrest is inadmissible because it continued after Romero clearly said he did not want to continue talking.
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez has said the judge’s decision will make things “tough” for the prosecution. But he also said the state will continue to push for the maximum penalty against Romero.
“We’re going to move forward . to see if we can enhance that life sentence to life without the possibility of parole,” Martinez said.
Romero has previous convictions for voluntary manslaughter, tampering with evidence and heroin trafficking. He is also facing federal charges, including robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon.
The jury will remain unaware of his criminal history.
Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com