SPANISH FORK — A man who once confessed to killing a sheriff's deputy, but changed his testimony during this week's trial was acquitted of the murder charge late Friday.
The jury deliberated nearly eight hours, ultimately finding Roberto Miramontes Román not guilty of shooting and killing Millard County sheriff's deputy Josie Greathouse Fox on Jan. 5, 2010.
Román, however, was convicted of tampering with evidence and possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, both third-degree felonies.
The surprise verdict deeply affected Millard County Sheriff Robert Dekker, who said, "The jury was wrong."
"I believe in my mind that he's guilty and somehow or another he's going to walk," Dekker said after the verdict was read at the 4th District Courthouse.
Afterward, the jury forewoman said the group wanted to convict, but there was too much reasonable doubt. She expressed condolences to the slain deputy's family.
"Obviously, we're very happy with the verdict. It's very gratifying when the jury listens to all the evidence," said defense attorney Stephen McCaughey. "He's happy he's not going to be getting life without parole."
Although Roman initially described to police how he'd shot and killed the sheriff's deputy, McCaughey said his client had been threatened and changed his story after the threat was gone.
"I don't know what happened, I just know what my client said happened. He explained why he lied to police to begin with," he said. "The jury didn't believe there was enough other evidence to convict. The burden of proof was on the state. They put on a lot of evidence. It really didn't show anything. It was just a lot of fluff."
The jury began deliberating at about 3 p.m. Friday, asking 4th District Court Judge Donald Eyre at one point how long they'd be expected to stay without reaching a verdict. They entered the courtroom just after 11 p.m.
Román took the stand in his own defense Thursday and Friday, surprising courtroom observers by testifying that it was Fox's brother, Ryan Greathouse, who actually fired the fatal shots.
"So, blame the dead guy. Blame the guy who can't defend himself. Blame the guy who can't respond. Blame deputy Fox's dead brother," prosecutor Pat Finlinson said. "Ladies and gentleman, I think that's called adding insult to injury. Ryan Greathouse did not kill his sister."
Finlinson pointed to an interview on Jan. 6, 2010, when Román confessed to police that he shot the deputy as soon as she approached his vehicle during a traffic stop. He reminded jurors that Roman went so far as to demonstrate how he had held the gun.
"All the credible evidence, all the believable evidence in this case leads to the conclusion that this defendant killed deputy Josie Greathouse Fox and then ran away," Finlinson said. "The new version is not consistent with the evidence and it's not believable."
But McCaughey reminded jurors that Román is presumed innocent until proven guilty and said there is no independent evidence, beyond Román's confession, that implicates the man. He reiterated Román's testimony that Greathouse threatened him.
"(Román) 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 jurors. "He's telling the truth now because the danger is gone."
Ryan Greathouse was found dead in a Las Vegas bedroom a few months after the shooting.
Earlier in the day, Román was cross-examined by prosecutors and repeated his testimony that Ryan Greathouse shot his sister and said Greathouse "screamed, he swore and then he cried."
Prosecutors then called rebuttal witnesses — police officers who went to talk to Ryan Greathouse soon after the shooting and testified that Ryan Greathouse did not appear to have been crying.
"The inference that you could draw from that is that he didn't have any reaction because he knew his sister was dead," McCaughey said. "He shot her on Highway 50."
But Finlinson said Román's version of events simply wasn't believable.
"Remember the true version instead of the new version," he told the jury. "No one has more to gain or lose from this case than the defendant. He doesn't want to go to jail for the rest of his life."
Román was originally facing the possibility of the death penalty, but Eyre determined that Román is "mentally retarded" and ineligible to receive a death sentence.
According to evidence from a previous court hearing, Román was taking a drive and smoking methamphetamine with Ryan Greathouse earlier that evening. Román allegedly told police that he was angry when Fox pulled him over because he had taken care to stay in his lane and follow the speed limit. Believing he was being stopped "because he was Mexican," Román reportedly told police he caught a glimpse of the deputy and immediately started shooting, according to court testimony.
Fox, 37, died after being shot in the chest.
Mike Román said his brother has claimed his innocence "since the beginning" and that his brother's testimony was "basically what we knew."
"I believe that a person that killed somebody, you can see it on their face," he said. "He didn't do it."
Roman will be sentenced for the two third-degree felony charges on Oct. 10.