A 23-year-old man pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder Tuesday, just over six months after prosecutors say he shot and killed three people during an altercation at a Roxbury party.
Jael Romero, who has listed addresses in Roxbury and Chelsea, is accused of killing 22-year-old Felix Garcia, 23-year-old Brian Tirado, and 22-year-old Ana Cruz on June 22.
Romero appeared in Suffolk Superior Court Tuesday, and Clerk Magistrate Gary Wilson decided to hold him without bail. In addition to the three counts of second-degree murder, Romero also pleaded not guilty on unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of ammunition, and carrying a loaded gun.
He is next scheduled to appear in court Feb. 6 for a pre-trial conference, and his trial is slated to begin the first week of December 2014.
Romero was indicted in November after a five-month grand jury investigation. At the time, he was already in custody on unrelated charges out of Bristol County and Rhode Island.
On Tuesday, about 20 friends and family members of the three victims filed into the courtroom, several wearing stickers bearing the faces of their loved ones, some rocking in their seats or holding hands as they waited for Romero to appear before them.
But Romero never showed his face in the courtroom. Instead, defense attorney Jack Cunha argued that much of the case would rest on the accounts of witnesses, and their ability to identify the correct person as the perpetrator of the shooting; keeping Romero out of view of the courtroom would help prevent those witnesses’ recollections from being tainted by new sightings or photos published in the media.
It was a move that visibly upset several family members who expressed dismay when they realized Romero would not enter the courtroom and would instead stand in the hallway out of sight. One woman rushed out of the courtroom, crying, as the charges against Romero were read; a court security guard walked through the aisles, offering tissues to upset family members.
After the arraignment, victims’ family members declined to comment on the proceedings.
Assistant District Attorney Gretchen Lundgren laid out a timeline of the June 22 events that resulted in the deaths of three people at the party at 153 Intervale St. in Roxbury. At the party, dozens of people remained until the wee hours, and at about 4:20 a.m., a fight broke out between two groups. Romero and a friend were in one group, and Tirado and Garcia were in the other group, Lundgren said.
Lundgren said the fight escalated when Romero’s friend was stabbed. Romero then fired five shots into the crowd, striking the three victims, all of whom later died at area hospitals, she said.
Cruz, who moved to Boston from Puerto Rico, was the mother of two 3-year-old twin girls when she was killed. Lundgren said she was not part of the altercation.
“She just happened to be nearby,” Lundgren said.
Romero and his friends immediately fled the party, Lundgren said, but Romero was later identified by witnesses. Lundgren said Romero also told acquaintances in July and August that he had been responsible for the deaths of the three people, and that he “had gotten away with it,” she said.
When he was indicted in the murders in November, Romero was already being held in Bristol County on gun and stolen car charges. Prior to the shooting, the prosecutor said, Romero was also on probation for an assault and battery charge, and had an open case against him related to unlawful possession of a firearm.
Lundgren argued that Romero be held without bail because of the gravity of the charges, as well as the fact that he had other gun-related charges filed against him from other alleged crimes.
“He clearly has access to weapons, and he’s a danger to the community,” Lundgren said.
Romero’s defense attorney did not argue with the request that he be held without bail.
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.