A Sonoma County Superior Court jury this afternoon convicted a Santa Rosa man of the first-degree murder of a former county jail corrections officer who was having an affair with his girlfriend and the mother of his three children. The jury deliberated less than four hours before convicting Ryan Mitchell Dietz, 31, of fatally shooting his romantic rival Jack Romero Jr., 33, of Santa Rosa, near the Third Street Aleworks in downtown Santa Rosa on June 28, 2011.
Dietz’s girlfriend Garicka Rush, 33, testified she was having an affair with Romero and that she disposed of unused bullets from the murder weapon at Dietz’s request. Santa Rosa police, who had her under surveillance, arrested her for the murder, and she was charged with and pleaded no contest to being an accessory. Santa Rosa police said Romero and Rush were at the brew pub just before the killing.
Police said Dietz chased Romero and shot him as he ran. Romero’s body was found in a nearby breezeway just after midnight on June 29. Deputy District Attorney Jane Murray and Chief Deputy District Attorney Bud McMahon argued Dietz lay in wait for Romero.
“It was first-degree murder or nothing based on the lying in wait,” Murray said after the verdict. She said Dietz faces 75 years to life in prison for the murder, personal and intentional discharge of a firearm and a prior felony assault conviction when he was 16 years old. Deputy Public Defender Joe Bisbiglia argued for an acquittal on the first-degree murder charge.
The jury also could have found Dietz guilty of “heat of passion” voluntary manslaughter. One juror who did not want to be identified said Rush’s testimony about disposing the unused 40-caliber bullets for Dietz implicated him and “was the crux” of the case.
The murder weapon was never recovered. “Even though the evidence was circumstantial, it was overwhelming,” the juror from Santa Rosa said. The juror said the panel also considered the slaying was committed in the heat of passion. “We were very thorough,” he said. Dietz shook his head slowly from side to side when the jury’s verdict was read.
After the verdict, Romero’s wife and father disputed the portrayal of the murder victim as a gang member and philanderer. Jack Romero Sr. said his son was involved in the Victory Outreach Church that tries to help gang members. He said his son knew some friends who were in a gang but he “didn’t go down that road.” Romero also said his son had sex with Rush a couple of times, but he said Rush had pursued and stalked his son.
“There was no love there,” Romero said. Romero’s wife Lynette Romero said she was undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer and was separated from Romero two years ago. She said she was in a hospital when she learned he was killed. “He was a loving father and took care of the kids all the time. He was my rock. He held us together,” she said.
The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said Romero worked as a corrections officer in the jail between 2002 and 2008. He was the subject of an internal investigation that could have led to his dismissal but he resigned, Assistant Sheriff Lorenzo Duenas said. Jack Romero Sr. said his son owned two guns and had one when he went to a downtown Santa Rosa club one night. The bouncer believed his son’s identification was fake and the incident led to an investigation. “He resigned. He felt there was a separation,” Romero said. Dietz’s family declined to comment about the verdict.
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