A member of a criminal street gang was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder and multiple other felonies in a 2006 drive-by shooting in Chandler.
Rodrigo Romero Jr., 26, faces a possible life term plus an additional 397 1/2 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections when he is sentenced on April 12.
On Dec. 2, 2006, Romero, a member of the Chandler Varrio Locos criminal street gang, and two other gang members showed up at a party at a home in Chandler held by members of Southside Chandler, a rival street gang.
Romero got into a verbal altercation with Martin Contreras, a member of Southside Chandler. During the confrontation, Romero pulled out a handgun and waved it around making gang threats, prosecutors said. The two were separated by other partygoers, and Romero left the party with his two associates.
Later that evening, Contreras and other Southside Chandler members went to another party held in the front yard of a home on nearby Erie Street which was attended by other Southside Chandler members.
There were about 20 people in the yard when gunfire erupted from a red Jeep Cherokee driving toward the house. Six people were hit, including 19-year-old Lindsay Key, who suffered a fatal gunshot to her head.
Witness accounts placed Romero in the vehicle at the time of the shooting and later connected the vehicle to Francisco Louis Cervantes, one of the gang members who accompanied Romero during the events that night. However, many witnesses to the crime were reluctant to provide additional information to police investigators, and no arrests were made.
Several days after the murder, the Jeep connected to Cervantes was found burning and destroyed on an Indian Reservation. Detectives recovered a shell casing from inside the vehicle that matched casings found at the crime scene.
During the course of the investigation, Cervantes went to prison on an unrelated charge and later admitted his involvement in the shooting to a cellmate. This allowed investigators to develop additional information about the crime and present the case to the county attorney for formal charging.
On Dec. 15, 2010, a Maricopa County Grand Jury indicted Rodrigo Romero and Francisco Cervantes on multiple felony counts for the drive-by shooting and Key's murder. After a 10-day trial that began on Jan. 22, 2013, Romero was found guilty on all counts.
Cervantes is scheduled to be tried on April 3, 2013.
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