Habitual offender Joseph Acosta Crisostomo yesterday entered a not guilty plea for the kidnapping and murder of bartender Emerita Romero in February 2012.
This developed as Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho during preliminary hearing yesterday found probable cause to warrant the filing of charges against the 39-year-old Crisostomo.
Camacho found probable cause as to all charges-first degree murder, kidnapping, sexual assault in the first degree, robbery, theft, assault and battery, and disturbing the peace.
After the preliminary hearing, court-appointed defense counsel Janet King agreed with Camacho to proceed with the arraignment.
Crisostomo, through King, waived reading of the information and advisement of his constitutional rights. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Camacho set the jury trial for Oct. 7, 2013 at 9am.
At the preliminary hearing, assistant attorney general Shelli Neal called to the witness stand police detective Simon T. Manacop, who testified about their investigation into the killing of Romero that led to the serving of arrest warrant to Crisostomo on Feb. 22, 2013.
Neal said the government presented credible evidence that on Feb. 5, 2012, Crisostomo did in fact murder Romero, whose body was found at the former La Fiesta Mall on Feb. 7, 2012.
Neal cited numerous evidence-witnesses' testimony, victim's 911 call, hair strand, clothing fiber, DNA results, among others, that were corroborated by the autopsy and the injuries.
King argued that there is not enough evidence to pin down Crisostomo to the murder and other charges.
King said that from the voice heard on the 911 call, the investigators or prosecution injected their own interpretation of the event.
Camacho cited Manacop's testimony, 911 recording, DNA results, autopsy, plus other evidence that support the charges to move forward.
With respect to the charges of first degree murder and second degree murder, Camacho noted the defense's concern that there is one body and that the defendant cannot be charged with two murders.
Neal said they want to research the issue and come back to court. She later agreed to dismiss without prejudice the second degree murder.
Under dismissal without prejudice, the plaintiff is allowed to re-file a new charge on the same allegation in the future.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Neal said she is pleased with the judge's decision.
“I'm not surprised. We worked really long and hard to put the case together,” Neal said.
As to the issue of first and second degree murder charges, Neal said the judge is uncomfortable with letting the prosecution proceed with both charges.
“We are allowed to charge alternatively here. There's different ways to commit murder. Other jurisdictions have couple of other homicide charges that we don't have here,” she said.
Neal said they charged Crisostomo alternatively (second degree murder), but the court was uncomfortable with that so they elect to go with the first degree murder.
“We believe that the facts of the case supports first degree murder,” Neal added.