Okay Owingeh Man Convicted of Murder by Federal Jury
ALBUQUERQUE – On the evening of March 24, 2011, a federal jury in Albuquerque convicted 20-year-old Carl Ernesto Romero of second degree murder after a four-day trial. Romero, who resides in the Pueblo of Okay Owingeh, was found guilty of killing 26-year-old Naayaitch Friday, a member of the Arapaho Indian Tribe of Wyoming, within the boundaries of the San Ildelfonso Pueblo on April 11, 2009.
Romero was charged in a five-count indictment alleging offenses related to Mr. Friday’s murder. In addition to the murder charge (Count 1), the indictment charged Romero with four other offenses: use of a firearm in relation to the violent crime of murder (Count 2); assault with a dangerous weapon (Count 3); assault resulting in serious bodily injury (Count 4); and use of a firearm in relation to the violent crime of assault (Count 5). The jury deliberated less than two hours before returning a guilty verdict on all five offenses. Although the jury did not convict Romero of first degree murder as charged in the indictment, it returned a guilty verdict on the lesser included offense of second degree murder.
At sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled, Romero faces up to life imprisonment on his second degree murder conviction to be followed by a prison term of not less than 25 years for using a firearm in relation to that murder. Romero also faces up to 10 years imprisonment on each of his two assault convictions to be followed by a prison term of not less 10 years on his conviction for using a firearm in relation to the assaults.
The evidence at trial established that, Mr. Friday and a friend (the “friend”) met Romero and two of his cohorts for the first time on the night of April 10, 2009 at a Sonic drive-in restaurant in Espanola, New Mexico, after Romero parked his Chevrolet Cavalier in the parking space next to the space occupied by Mr. Friday and the friend. Thereafter, when the friend was confronted by an individual who brandished a firearm at him, Romero offered to let the friend use his shotgun to defend himself, and the friend observed that a shotgun in the Cavalier.
At approximately 10:45 p.m. that night, Mr. Friday and the friend joined Romero and his two cohorts when they left the Sonic in the Cavalier to go to the Big Rock Casino located on the Santa Clara Pueblo. The group convened at the sports bar where they drank alcohol. They left the casino and later returned at around 12:30 a.m. on April 11, 2011. The group was confronted by casino security officers in the parking lot and left the premises at approximately 12:45 a.m. After driving around, Romero, Mr. Friday and the two other men dropped the friend off at a residence in the San Ildelfonso Pueblo.
Mr. Friday’s body was discovered in an arroyo on the San Ildelfonso Pueblo on the afternoon of April 11, 2009 by a motorist. An autopsy by the Office of the Medical Investigator established that Mr. Friday had been shot at close range in the chest and chin by a shotgun.
After sources assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in identifying Romero as the driver of the Cavalier and that Romero had access to a shotgun, Special Agents of the FBI executed a search warrant at Romero’s residence on April 16, 2009 and seized the shotgun that was used to kill Mr. Friday. While executing the search warrant, FBI agents interviewed Romero who admitted killing Mr. Friday.
During the interview, Romero admitted socializing with Mr. Friday and the friend on the night of April 10, 2009 and the early hours of April 11, 2009. He also admitted that, after dropping the friend off at a residence in San Ildelfonso, he had a verbal confrontation with Mr. Friday over drugs and money. According to Romero, Mr. Friday continued to “mouth off” after Romero pulled the Cavalier off in an arroyo on the San Ildelfonso Pueblo to examine the car’s tires. Romero responded by shooting Mr. Friday in the chest. Mr. Friday fell back from the impact of the shot, and cried and begged Romero not to shoot him again. Romero, however, returned to the Cavalier, loaded another shotgun shell into the shotgun, and shot Mr. Friday in the face and left him to die in the arroyo.
Romero was arrested on April 16, 2009 and has been in federal custody since that time.
The case was investigated by the FBI, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Office of Justice Services of the U.S. Department of Justice, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Roberto D. Ortega and Charles L. Barth.