By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
A jury convicted Michael Romero, Tucumcari, of unlawful taking of a vehicle, aggravated fleeing of a police officer, and battery against a household member but hung on two charges of child abuse April 1 in Tenth Judicial District Court.
The verdict came after three days of testimony before Tenth Judicial District Judge Albert Mitchell.
Romero was charged with the five felony counts after an incident Sept. 15 in which he allegedly took a vehicle belonging to Tabitha Romero, his sister, and in which Tabitha Romero’s two children, ages six and seven, were apparently riding. Later, Michael Romero failed to stop when signalled to do so by Tucumcari Police Officer Dennis Garcia, and drove away from Garcia “in a manner that endangered the life another person,” according a court criminal information document.
During the trial, which began March 30, a charge of robbery against Romero was dismissed in favor of the less serious offense, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.
“That’s a difference of nine years, eight months in sentencing,” Romero’s defense attorney Jennifer Burrill of Clovis, said.
Tenth Judicial District Attorney Tim Rose said he intends to re-try the child abuse charges. The jury, he said, could not determine whether the children were in the car during the police pursuit.
Burrill said the jury could not agree on the credibility of Tabitha Romero, who, according to testimony, was under the influence of medications at the time of the incident.
Rose said he was satisfied with the jury’s decision overall, however.
Burrill said the jury’s decision showed that the case was “way overcharged,” meaning the charges against Romero were excessive.
Aggravated fleeing of a police officer is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by 18 months in prison, a fine of $5,000 and a possibility that the defendant may have to complete counseling at his or her own expense.
Unlawful taking of a motor vehicle is a fourth-degree felony, punishable by three years in prison, a fine of $5,000 and a possible requirement that the defendant may have to participate in a program of professional counseling at his or her own expense.
The child abuse charges against Romero are also third-degree felonies.
Battery of a household member is a “full misdemeanor” which carries a sentence of up to a year in jail or payment of a fine not more than $1,000, or both.