It was very difficult for us to come to our verdict of not guilty. —Nicole Kay, jury forewoman
SPANISH FORK — Deciding whether to convict Roberto Miramontes Roman of murdering a sheriff's deputy came down to the basic standards of the justice system, the jury forewoman said.
They reached a not guilty verdict in spite of "gut" or "intuition," relying instead on the presumption of innocence and the instruction that their decision needed to be based on evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
"We wanted justice to be served," Nicole Kay said. "It was very difficult for us to come to our verdict of not guilty.
"We all wanted to come out with a verdict of guilty. We all would have thought that was great that somebody would have paid for the murder of Josie Fox. But according to the stipulations we were under and what we were required to do by law, even though we felt that Roberto Roman could have definitely killed her, we didn't have the evidence beyond a reasonable doubt."
The majority of the jurors initially believed Roman was guilty of murdering Millard County sheriff's deputy Josie Greathouse Fox, Kay said. But their opinions eventually changed.
"After a lot of deliberation and holding out and me being the last person, we finally had come to the conclusion that there was reasonable doubt in our minds," she said.
After eight hours of deliberation — including a point in time where jurors said they were struggling to reach a consensus — the jury found Roman, 40, not guilty of murder in Fox's death.
Fox, 37, was shot and killed after initiating a traffic stop near Delta on Jan. 5, 2010. Most of the facts about the events surrounding her death were undisputed.
Attorneys on both sides of the case agreed that testimony given in court and the evidence presented supported the basic facts and narrative of events. Roman's trial was really as simple as defense attorney Stephen McCaughey posed it to the jury — the only question was: Who fired the fatal shots that ended the deputy's life?
The day after the shooting, Roman confessed to killing Fox. Yet during his trial 2 ½ years later, he changed his story and testified that the killer was actually Fox's own brother, Ryan Greathouse, who is now dead.
According to police, Greathouse had purchased drugs from Roman just minutes before the shooting death. Fox and another deputy had been watching the suspicious vehicles from a distance because, investigators said, there had been a string of thefts in the area.
Greathouse, 40, died of an accidental drug overdose 4 ½ months after his sister was killed. His body was discovered in the bedroom of a Las Vegas apartment.
"We wanted to know who pulled that trigger," Kay said. "There was such an absence of evidence on Ryan Greathouse and anything on that at all (that) at the end of the day, we couldn't rule out the possibility that it could have happened."
McCaughey said Roman's testimony "is what this case is all about." The defense attorney said he was pleased that the jury that considered all of the evidence.
"I don't know what happened, I just know what my client said happened," McCaughey said following the late night Friday verdict. "He explained why he lied to police to begin with (and) the jury didn't believe there was enough other evidence to convict. The burden of proof is on the state. They put on a lot of evidence — it really didn't show anything."
But for Fox's husband, Doug Fox, the case was much simpler than that.
"(Roman) admitted that he done it," he said. "You know that flat (out) tells you he's guilty."
Millard County Sheriff's Sgt. Rhett Kimball testified previously that he was monitoring the McCornick area, where there had been a string of thefts, in the late night hours spanning Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, 2010.
At one point, he saw what appeared to be a meeting between two vehicles and then both cars drove away in different directions. Kimball was fairly certain one vehicle belonged to Ryan Greathouse. He asked Fox, Greathouse's sister who was on patrol, to try and identify the other vehicle as it headed toward Delta.
Fox stopped the Cadillac DeVille about 1 a.m. and called in the license plate number to dispatchers and was told to stop the vehicle.
Kimball drove to Fox's location soon after and found only her vehicle, emergency lights activated. When he pulled up alongside her car, he said he found Fox lying in the road.
"Two bullets from an AK-47 rifle while on a traffic stop," prosecutor Pat Finlinson described to the jury. "Deputy Josie Greathouse Fox lay on the road in a pool of blood."
The cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest.
Deputies went to Greathouse's home soon after to ask him who he had met with earlier in the night and to see if the suspect or suspect vehicle was there.
"He was pretty even-keeled throughout the whole evening," deputy Michael Turner testified during the trial. "He didn't appear to be upset by any means."
But when Greathouse was informed his sister had been shot, he looked to be "dejected" and agreed to go with police.
"He was sad about it," Turner said. "He was upset. ... I remember feeling sorry for him."
During an earlier preliminary hearing, detective Richard Jacobson said Greathouse told them that he had purchased drugs from a man he knew only as "Rob" earlier that morning. He gave police the phone number, and they were able to trace it to Roman through his cell phone service provider.
Roman: I 'broke a cop'
As Roman fled, he placed calls to a friend, Ruben Chavez-Reyes, asking for help after getting his car stuck in a snowbank in Nephi. Soon after Chavez-Reyes arrived, Roman threw the AK-47 and another firearm out the window and took the license plate from his Cadillac and attached it to Chavez-Reyes' vehicle. The two men traveled to the Poplar Grove neighborhood in Salt Lake City, where, according to an interview Chavez-Reyes had with police, Roman told Chavez-Reyes in their native Spanish that he "broke a cop."
Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Matt Higley, who conducted the interview, said Chavez-Reyes believed that meant Roman had killed a police officer.
"He told us that Roman was his friend and that he was already involved at this point, knowingly or unknowingly, and was determined to help his friend," Higley said at the time. "He thought he would get 20 years and Mr. Roman would get the gas chamber. Those were his words."
The two men then traveled to Provo before they were found hiding in a shed in Beaver. Chavez-Reyes, 39, was eventually convicted by a jury of obstruction of justice, burglary and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to prison. Chavez-Reyes did not testify at trial.
At the time of the arrest, Roman had already been charged with murdering Fox. In a police interview on Jan. 6, 2010, Higley said Roman confessed to killing the deputy.
Higley said Roman told him that he and Greathouse had gone for a drive and smoked some methamphetamine and that Roman recounted telling Greathouse that if a car they could see in the distance turned out to be a police vehicle, he planned to open fire.
"He made statements that he would shoot at police officers, that it would not be a good night to be a police officer," Higley said Roman told him.
Roman became angry soon after when he realized that he was being followed by a police officer, but he took care to stay in his lane and follow the speed limit, according to Higley. When the police officer turned on her emergency lights, Roman apparently snapped.
"He said he became very angry," Higley said. "He thought the reason he was being stopped was because he was Mexican. He pulled on to the side of the road and said he heard what he described as a mean voice saying, 'License and registration.' He said as soon as he saw the officer in the corner of his eye, he raised the gun onto his left shoulder and fired two or three rounds."
But as he stood trial for murder, Roman took the stand in his own defense Thursday and Friday and made significant and crucial changes to that story.
Roman testified that when Kimball saw Greathouse's vehicle drive off, it was being driven by a third man whom Roman had never seen before and has not since been able to identify. He describede him as a blond man, medium build with a mustache.
Greathouse was still in Roman's Cadillac when he turned toward Delta and the AK-47 was between them in the car, Roman claimed. When the car was pulled over, Roman said it was Greathouse who took the gun and, reaching over Roman's chest from the passenger side of the vehicle, opened fire.
Roman said Greathouse didn't know the deputy was his own sister and cried when he realized what he had done. He said Greathouse then threatened him and his two children, prompting him to cover for Greathouse.
"(Roman) had just seen Ryan Greathouse shoot his sister. He had just heard Ryan Greathouse threaten his children. He was afraid of what he could do," McCaughey told the jury.
Prosecutors sought to have Greathouse's written statement to police entered into evidence at trial but McCaughey objected, calling it hearsay. Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre determined that only parts of the statement, including the information about drug use, could be included.
Prosecutors put on rebuttal witnesses who said Greathouse didn't appear to be upset, nor appeared to have been crying, until after he was informed of the shooting. McCaughey argued that Greathouse was composed because he already knew what had happened to his sister.
McCaughey emphasized that Roman was innocent until proven guilty and that the jury needed to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt before convicting him. He added that there was no independent evidence, beyond Roman's confession, that implicated the man. Roman's fingerprints were on the AK-47, McCaughey conceded, but Roman never said he didn't handle the gun, which he said he got from Greathouse.
Finlinson asked the jury to look again at Roman's confession, in which he demonstrated for police how he had shot Fox, and the additional evidence that corroborated that narrative. He dismissed Roman's new testimony about Greathouse's involvement as "convenient" and questioned certain details such as whether Greathouse could have physically crouched in the vehicle as Roman described or driven the approximately 23-mile distance to Greathouse's home in Leamington to drop him off in just 10 minutes.
"It's not consistent," Finlinson said in closing arguments. "It's not believable."
But jurors still had questions.
"All of us wish we could have made decisions based on our gut and our intuition and not just on the evidence presented because there was a lack of evidence that we needed to make that decision. But that's not how our justice system works," Kay said. "You're innocent until proven guilty.
"We feel so sorry for the family and want to send our condolences and we didn't take this decision lightly."
"Everybody's shocked and hurt" about the verdict, Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker said Saturday.
"It's kind of a slap in the face to all of us, but on the other hand, that's the country we live in, that's the system we have and this time maybe the system didn't work," he said. "The jury was wrong."
Still, Dekker said the close Millard County community will move on and grow together.
"That's the kind of people we have here and it's exactly, I think, what Josie would have us do — to continue on ... as a family," the sheriff said.8 comments on this story
The jury convicted Roman of tampering with evidence and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, both third-degree felonies. He will be sentenced for those on Oct. 10. Each carries a maximum penalty of zero to five years.
Chavez-Reyes is serving a 1-to-15-year prison sentence and has another parole hearing slated for January of 2017.