DPS supervisor: 100 percent sure it’s Crisostomo’s voice in 911 call

Half of entire CIB also recognized Crisostomo’s voice

Police detective Elias Q. Saralu testified yesterday that he and half of the detectives who listened to the 911 call that Emerita Romero made on Feb. 5, 2012, recognized the male voice in the recordings as that of Joseph A. Crisostomo’s.

“I’m 100 percent sure it’s Joseph Crisostomo’s voice,” said Saralu, who was among the government’s witnesses called to the witness stand yesterday in the ongoing jury trial in Superior Court of the 40-year-old Crisostomo.

Saralu, a supervisor at the Department of Public Safety’s Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation’s Narcotics Section, also disclosed that on Feb. 10, 2012, the entire Criminal Investigation Bureau (now called Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation)—composed of 20 to 25 detectives—listened to the 911 recordings and that half of them recognized Crisostomo’s voice in the recordings.

Guam chief medical examiner Dr. Aurelio Espinola also testified yesterday that Romero died of strangulation and that her bruises in the lower and upper extremities showed that there was a struggle before she died.

Saralu admitted that their “persons of interest” were at first Romero’s boyfriend Taj Van Buuren and the driver of an illegal taxicab. He said a “person of interest” means a person who knows what happened to Romero.

The detective said their investigation, however, shifted to one person—Crisostomo—after Joan Castro, Crisostomo’s former common-law wife, called him on Feb. 8, 2012, about Romero’s murder.

Castro reportedly told Saralu that on the evening of Feb. 4, 2012, Crisostomo was seen driving a rented dark-colored Toyota Yaris or Corolla. Crisostomo was accompanied by his sister, Annie Crisostomo, and Annie’s boyfriend, Cheyenne Sablan.

Following Castro’s tips, Saralu said they canvassed rent-a-car companies on the island until they found the Toyota Corolla with license plate ACG-246 that Annie Crisostomo rented from Islander Rent A Car.

Saralu said he and detective Simon Manacop impounded the car and brought it to DPS Boating Safety Section hangar, where Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent Haejun Park processed it.

Saralu admitted that prior to Castro’s call, Crisostomo was not a “person of interest.”

The detective said that on Feb. 10, 2012, the entire CIB detectives had a meeting where they listened to the recordings of the 911 call that Romero made in the early morning hours of Feb. 5, 2012. Saralu said he recognized three voices in the recordings: Romero’s, 911 operator Sandy Hambros’, and Crisostomo’s. Saralu said that Romero was screaming.

Saralu said that almost half of the detectives present at the meeting recognized Crisostomo’s voice. He said he is very familiar with Crisostomo’s voice because the defendant used to work with them for quite a while as a confidential informant.

Saralu will continue his testimony today, Tuesday, at 8:30am.

Before the detective was called to the witness stand, Espinola, a forensic pathologist, testified for the government.

Espinola said that all of Romero’s clothes were intact when he saw the body during the autopsy he did at the Commonwealth Health Center’s morgue on Feb. 7, 2012. He said she had on two tank tops, bra, a pair of short pants, a bikini panty, and a belt.

Espinola determined that Romero died as a result of asphyxia due to strangulation. He said a black piece of cloth was used to strangle the victim. He found the cloth loop-tied around the victim’s neck with a square knot on the right side. He also found swelling and contusions on the victim’s legs, arms, and knees.

Espinola said there was pre-mortem hemorrhage or bleeding under the skin that suggested beating and that there was a struggle before Romero died.

Espinola said there was no trauma in Romero’s genitals, but that he could not rule out that the possibility that she was sexually assaulted. He said if a woman has sexual experience, there is no trauma in the vagina unless the assailant is sadistic who uses foreign materials or objects.

Shown photos of Romero during the autopsy, Aurelio said that Romero’s body was already in an advanced state of decomposition. He said the body was already bloated.

Crisostomo showed no emotions as he glanced at the victim’s photos.

Espinola said that before he did the autopsy, a doctor and a nurse at CHC collected swab samples from Romero for analysis to check if she had been sexually assaulted.

Espinola said he concluded that Romero was strangled because of the presence of the cloth tied very tightly around her neck and her tongue protruded outside the mouth. He said there was bleeding in the upper and lower eyelids because of the pressure applied to the neck.

Espinola said he then opened the body and confirmed that Romero died of strangulation upon seeing that her heart was dilated. He said the heart becomes dilated during strangulation because of its difficulty of pumping blood. He added that the injury to the neck was consistent with strangulation.

Present during the autopsy were detective Manacop, FBI special agent Haejun Park, a doctor, a nurse, and a mortician.

Eduardo G. Relata, the older brother of Romero, testified that between 5pm to 6pm on Feb. 5, 2012, Romero’s employer, Scott Dottino, came over to their house, looking for her. Relata said he told Dottino that maybe his sister was already at Godfather’s Bar in Garapan. He said his sister usually opens the establishment if it’s a Sunday.

Relata recalled that the last time he saw his sister alive was on the night of Feb. 4, 2012, when she asked him to drop her off at work. Relata said he asked their cousin to drop her off.

On Feb. 7, 2012 when Romero was found at the former La Fiesta Mall, he was searching for her at the northern side of the island. That same night, he said, they were allowed to see the body at CHC’s morgue. He recognized her anklet in the right leg and her fingernails.

Relata said he already heard his sister’s 911 call. He identified the 911 call disc, but the prosecution did not play the recordings in court. He said there were three voices in the 911 call, one of which was his sister’s, and then two men. His voice cracked when he recalled that it sounded like his sister really needed help to get free, and was begging for her life.

At least two women, both of whom were Romero’s friends, were seen crying inside the courtroom.

Detective Roque Camacho testified that he too recognized Crisostomo’s voice as one of three voices in the 911 recordings that Manacop asked him to listen on Feb. 10, 2012. Camacho said he was also among the CIB detectives who listened to the same recordings later that night of Feb. 10, 2012.

Camacho said that afternoon of Feb. 10, 2012, he and other detectives met Crisostomo at a runway in Koblerville, where they talked about his information about narcotics. Camacho said they also asked Cristomo about the Romero case, but the defendant denied any knowledge of it. He said he did not notice any bruises and scratches on Crisostomo that day.

Camacho said he listened to the 911 recordings upon Manacop’s request three hours after that conversation with Crisostomo.

On defense attorney Janet H. King’s cross-examination, Camacho disclosed that they also checked Van Bureen’s body, but they did not find any bruises or scratches.

The detective said on Feb. 7, 2010, he interviewed a firefighter, who stated that on that morning he saw a Caucasian male on the side of the road near the northern part of the former La Fiesta. Camacho said the information had no value to the investigation because they found out that the Caucasian was simply exercising there and had used a gold Toyota Echo, which was different from the car they were looking.

Police officer Eric F. David, who is in charge of the 911 recorder at DPS, also took the witness stand. David said he extracted and saved the “odd” 911 calls made on Feb. 5, 2012, upon Manacop’s request on Feb. 7, 2012.

David said that with the help of his counterpart in Guam, he downloaded the extracted 911 recordings and burned them to three discs.

Estrellita Relata, younger sister of Romero, also briefly testified, saying she and her sister shared a room in their house. She said that in the early morning of Feb. 5, 2012, she did not notice her sister come home.

Estrellita said that when she woke up at 11am on Feb. 5, Romero was not in the room. She said at the time, she was not aware that Van Buuren was her sister’s boyfriend. Estrellita, however, stated that her sister once showed her photos of Van Buuren on her cellphone.

Responding to a question raised by Associate Judge Joseph Camacho, Estrellita said her sister had leggings, but she seldom used it.

Meanwhile, it was clarified yesterday that Taj Van Buuren lives in an apartment at a building where Wash and Wear Washland is located in Chalan Piao.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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