The Office of the Attorney General has asked the Superior Court to allow the prosecution to display during its opening argument an “in life” photograph of murdered bartender Emerita Romero that was retrieved from her purse at the crime scene.
Assistant attorney general James B. McAllister said that Romero’s identity is an element of each crime charged and the “in life” photograph will be necessary for many witnesses to identify her.
McAllister said that Romero’s identity cannot be determined from crime scene photos due to decomposition.
This photograph, the prosecutor said, was retrieved from Romero’s purse at the crime scene, further proving her identity through ownership of the purse.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents found Romero’s body at the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque on Feb. 7, 2012, two days after she was last seen boarding a car near her house in Garapan.
More than a year later, on Feb. 22, 2013, police arrested Joseph A. Crisostomo, the alleged the driver of the car, on charges that he killed the bartender by strangling her.
In the government’s motion to admit the photograph, McAllister said that even if the issue of identity or ownership of the purse is conceded by the defense, the photograph is still admissible based on common law authorities.
The prosecutor said that appellate courts have refused to find error when the prosecution displayed photographs of murder victims during opening argument.
“Here, the CNMI seeks to put a face on Romero’s name in the opening argument. As with any homicide case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving crimes committed against the victim without the victim’s testimony,” McAllister said.
In efforts to do so, he said, the government seeks to display a single “in life” portrait of Romero during opening arguments.
McAllister said this portrait will likely be the only evidence that accurately depicts the victim’s face and so the prosecution should be permitted to display this evidence.
Crisostomo, 40, is charged with, among other crimes, murder, kidnapping, and sexual assault. His jury trial will be on Oct. 15, 2013.