LOS LUNAS, N.M. — A New Mexico man was convicted Friday of murder in the shooting death of a suburban Albuquerque police officer during a chaotic traffic stop.
After briefly deliberating, jurors found Andrew Romero guilty of first-degree murder and a number of other charges in the Memorial Day 2015 killing of Rio Rancho Officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner in the case that drew national attention amid violence against police and concerns over police shootings.
Romero, 29, has a lengthy criminal history that includes a manslaughter convicts. At the time Benner was shot, Romero was wanted for failing to participate in a court-ordered drug treatment program.
Benner was an Air Force veteran who had been on the police force for four years. He was shot at the end of his shift as he tried to pull over a vehicle in which Romero was a passenger.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said Romero was not too high on drugs to know what he was doing. They pointed to DNA evidence linking Romero to the gun that was used and the vehicle that Benner stopped before he was fatally shot.
Romero’s former girlfriend, Tabitha Littles, testified that she was driving Romero to a fast-food restaurant to commit a robbery that night. She said Romero shot Benner after he pulled them over for having a questionable license plate.
Defense attorneys argued that finding Romero’s DNA on the gun didn’t prove he fired it.
Romero’s attorneys also called into question the honesty of Littles, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses. They told jurors that Littles lied to authorities during their investigation before taking a plea deal that called for her to testify against Romero.
Romero will be sentenced in two weeks. He could face life in prison without parole.
Benner’s family and friends hugged after the verdicts were read. Romero showed no emotion.
The case was moved from Sandoval County about 40 miles south to Valencia County because of extensive media coverage.
During the trial, prosecutors showed jurors video of the frantic moments that followed Benner’s shooting and emergency workers’ efforts to save him. Law enforcement officers and the widow of Benner watched through tears as the video played on a courtroom screen.
The video came from the lapel camera of a Rio Rancho police officer who was called to testify during the first day of the trial.