Attorney Janet H. King has opposed the government’s request to allow the display of the “in-life” photograph of murdered bartender Emerita Romero during the jury trial of her client, Joseph A. Crisostomo.
In Crisostomo’s opposition filed in Superior Court on Friday, King argued that as the government has yet to present any evidence related to the photograph, no foundation has been laid to support its admission. Under the Commonwealth Rules of Evidence, the admission of the photograph is not yet ripe, she added.
“If during trial the Commonwealth believes it can meet the burden established by the Commonwealth Rules of Evidence, then they should do so and at that time the court can make a ruling on the admissibility of the photograph just as it will any other evidence offered by the Commonwealth,” she said.
King said the opening statement of a trial is not a portion of the trial where evidence is admitted.
Assistant attorney general James McAllister had asked the court to permit the prosecution to display during its opening statements Romero’s “in-life” photograph that was retrieved from her purse at the crime scene.
McAllister said that Romero’s identity is an element of each crime charged and the photograph will be necessary for many witnesses to identify her.
The prosecutor said that Romero’s identity cannot be determined from crime scene photos due to decomposition.
In Crisostomo’s reply, King said in this case, the identity of the murder victim to be made by a photograph is not an issue.
The lawyer said there is no dispute as to the identity of Romero based on an identification made by biometrics data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
From an evidentiary perspective, King said the only cognizable purpose to display an “in life” photograph to the jury during opening statements is to inflame the passions of the jury at the outset of trial.
“Thus, if the Commonwealth has no real need to introduce the photograph, there is nothing against which to balance any prejudice to the defendant,” she said.
King noted that the case law the Commonwealth cites to support its proposition of the acceptability of the use of a “in life” photograph during opening is “questionable at best.”
The trial of 40-year-old Crisostomo will begin on Oct. 15, 2013.
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.