Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Falcone, sitting in Morristown, agreed to relieve the latest lawyer for suspect Joel A. Romero, 27, because Romero refuses to speak to counsel Douglas Del Tufo and claims he does not have “his best interests at heart.”
Since he was caught in the act of assaulting a 20-year-old woman on July 10, 2005, Romero has gone through three public defenders and one private lawyer, Del Tufo.
The Morris County Office of the Public Defender is expected to reassign Romero’s first lawyer, Jessica Moses, to represent him on multiple charges that include kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.
The judge in February set a trial date of May 7, but said Wednesday he would give Romero until May 30 to either accept a plea bargain or go to trial. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has extended a 30-year plea deal. Falcone said he had been willing to consider a 24-year sentence but upped the offer back to 30 years Wednesday after Romero started making demands, through a Spanish-to-English court interpreter.
“I want one who speaks Spanish,” said Romero, who is in the United States illegally from Honduras.
“Too bad!” blurted out deputy Public Defender Dolores Mann, who was watching the hearing in court.
A chilling account
In a chilling version of events, Amendanoan illegal immigrant from Ecuadorsaid he heard screams and choking sounds while heading home along Lafayette Avenue around 2 a.m. after a night of drinking. He said he followed the noise and saw a man sexually abusing a naked woman. Amendano said he complied with the stranger’s request that he hold down the woman while heRomerocontinued his assault.
Amendano said he held the woman on her chest and stomach to keep her still but ran when he heard sirens. He was nabbed running away. Romero, police said, was caught in the act of assaulting the victim.