A Kern County judge sentenced Julio Jesus Romero to spend the rest of his life behind bars Thursday for the “horrific, senseless” slayings of two people over a $2 cover charge at a Bakersfield party.
Judge Michael E. Dellostritto imposed a sentence of life without the possibility of parole plus 130 years to life in prison. Romero, a self-proclaimed member of the Colonia Bakers gang, looked directly at Dellostritto but showed no reaction as the sentence was pronounced.
Romero shot and killed Jose Garcia III, 20, and Feliberto Ponce, 17, and wounded two others early May 26, 2013, at a party in the 3700 block of Columbus Street. None of the victims was gang-affiliated, the prosecutor said.
One of the survivors was paralyzed and will never walk again, according to statements made in court.
Christian Rodriguez, nephew of Ponce, said his uncle’s death has shattered their once close-knit family. People keep to themselves now, he said.
Rodriguez told the court he can never forgive Romero.
“(Romero) can smile and he can brag about killing my uncle all he wants while in prison,” Rodriguez said. “I just want justice to be served.”
During a prior hearing and earlier in Thursday’s hearing, Romero looked at family in the audience and smiled. But he kept his features impassive while listening as victims’ relatives spoke of their loss.
Letters read by District Attorney’s office representatives on behalf of the victims noted Romero’s actions will keep him from watching his children grow up or being by his mother’s side through her remaining years.
While some expressed a measure of forgiveness, others told Romero they hope his new circumstances haunt him.
“I just pray that you get no sleep,” said Manuel Garcia, grandfather of Jose Garcia III.
The shootings occurred when a fight broke out after a group of people Romero was with refused to pay a $2 cover charge to attend the party.
Romero shot the victims in the back as they ran away, according to the prosecutor.
He fled to Mexico where he was apprehended two years later. In August, a jury convicted Romero of two counts of murder and other charges.
Before sentencing, Romero’s Encino-based attorney, Alan Baum, argued for a new trial on the grounds the shooting was not premeditated. He said Romero only resorted to firing the gun because he was being beaten and was trying to defend himself.
Baum also said it’s arguable the victims were shot as they were fleeing. He asked Dellostritto to order a new trial or, failing that, substitute a charge of second-degree murder instead of the first-degree murder counts on which Romero was convicted.
Dellostritto denied the motion, finding the evidence supported the prosecution’s allegation that Romero was not involved in a fight at the time of the shooting.
Dellostritto said Romero had an opportunity to consider his actions before he opened fire in what the judge described as “horrific, senseless” shootings in which alcohol clearly played a role.