Tara Romero murder suspect found competent - Morgan Hill Times: Crime Fire Courts

Tara Romero murder suspect found competent

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Posted: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 3:25 pm

The hearing for five young men accused of killing Morgan Hill teen Tara Romero in 2011 was continued again Monday, and a court-appointed doctor who evaluated one of the suspects who claimed to be mentally incompetent found he was faking his condition, according to authorities. 

The next hearing for the five suspects is scheduled for May 20 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Peter Waite. 

Ramon Gutierrez, 18 of Morgan Hill; Esmeling Bahena, 19 of Morgan Hill; Ricardo Diaz, 20 of Morgan Hill; Fernando Mateo Lopez, 21 of Gilroy; and Primitivo Hernandez, 24 of San Jose are charged with murder and attempted murder in relation to the Nov. 4, 2011 drive-by shooting that took 14-year-old Romero’s life and injured three of her teenage friends and former classmates at the corner of Cosmo and Del Monte avenues in Morgan Hill. 

The young men are also charged with an enhancement for carrying out the crime for an illegal street gang. 

According to police, the shooters mistook the teen victims as members of a rival street gang. However, they were unaffiliated with any gang activity and were standing on the corner waiting for a ride home from a birthday party. 

Romero was a freshman at Sobrato High School at the time of the shooting. Paramedics pronounced her dead when they arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting. Her friends who were waiting with her, Alicia Sotelo, 15; Rosa Castaneda, 14; and Chris Loredo, 16; were injured by the gunfire and transported to area hospitals.

All four victims were Sobrato students at the time. 

Gutierrez has previously claimed that he was not mentally competent to stand trial for the charges against him, but Waite said the judge recently found him competent after a court-appointed doctor was finally able to evaluate him. Gutierrez refused to see the doctor for three previous scheduled medical exams. 

“Finally, this month he came down (from the jail) and he was interviewed, and the doctor wrote a long report that found he was malingering,” or faking his condition, Waite said. 

Waite added that in his experience, it is unusual for a defendant to fake symptoms of mental incompetence. 

All five suspects were arrested by Morgan Hill police shortly after the 2011 shooting. An officer saw the car they were traveling in blow through a stop sign just down the street from the scene of the murder, and followed them to a home on Barnell Avenue. Police surrounded the home and arrested all five without incident, following a brief standoff. 

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