LOS ANGELES – A state appeals court panel Wednesday overturned a former Palmdale resident’s conviction for attacks on two female joggers in the Antelope Valley in 2015.
In a 16-page ruling, the three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with the defense’s contention that one of the jurors who heard the case against Heriberto D. Romero should have been removed from the panel after disclosing that she was “very sure” that one of the alleged victims was a student in one of her high school classes about three years earlier.
“Doing so would have eliminated any potential concerns regarding the juror’s impartiality and precluded the issue from becoming a claim on appeal,” the justices said of the issue, which was disclosed by the juror after a break in the alleged victim’s testimony.
The appellate court panel concluded that the court “abused its discretion” in refusing to discharge the juror, noting that the teacher had said she did not “think” her favorable teacher-student relationship with the girl would affect how she perceived the evidence and participated in deliberations.
“Romero was entitled to be tried by 12, not 11, impartial and unprejudiced jurors,” the justices found in reversing the entire judgment. “Although Romero argues that the trial court’s error requires reversal of his convictions in counts 6 and 8 only, when, as here, an error has affected the entire trial framework, we cannot parse relief in this manner.”
The charges involved attacks on a 20-year-old jogger who fought back after being confronted from behind while on an evening run at Pelona Vista Park in Palmdale on Jan. 17, 2015, and a 24-year-old woman who was jogging near the California Aqueduct around 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 15, 2015.
Romero was convicted last August of two counts of assault with intent to commit rape and one count each of attempted kidnapping to commit rape, false imprisonment by violence and dissuading a witness from testifying. He was sentenced last September to 23 years in state prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Romero will remain imprisoned. If the state attorney general does not appeal Wednesday’s ruling, the case would return to the original court.
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