Convicted CNMI Murderer Gets Life In Prison, No Chance Of Parole

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Crisostomo expected to appeal harsh sentence

By Ferdie De La Torre

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 29, 2014) – Joseph Acosta Crisostomo, a habitual offender who was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and killing bartender Emerita R. Romero, was sentenced to life yesterday in Superior Court.

"Mr. Crisostomo, you, through your counsel, asks for leniency. You will get justice," Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho told the 40-year-old Crisostomo at yesterday’s sentencing hearing.

"Scared, screaming and begging, bruises and scratches on her arms and legs, violently penetrated and raped, strangled and gasping for air. With her spirit gone, thrown in an abandoned bathroom like a piece of human waste," said Camacho, describing the last minutes of Romero’s life.

As the sentence was handed down, an impassive Crisostomo was seen rocking his chair and tapping his right foot.

Camacho imposed the maximum sentences on all six charges, to be served day to day, without the possibility of parole, probation, early release, work or weekend release, or similar programs.

For murder in the first degree, the judge imposed life imprisonment; for kidnapping, 10 years; for sexual assault in the first degree, 30 years; for robbery with serious bodily injury, 20 years; for assault and battery, one year; and for disturbing the peace, six months.

All sentences shall run concurrently and start immediately.

Camacho specifically ordered that all sentences in this case would run concurrently with the sentences already imposed on Crisostomo in two previous criminal cases.

Concurrently means that all the prison sentences for all charges shall be served under the life imprisonment sentence.

Camacho said one advantage of the concurrent sentence is the doctrine that an appellate court, when upholding one sentence, will not disturb concurrent sentences that are equal or less.

Camacho said a concurrent sentence will ensure that Crisostomo will not escape the justice that he deserves.

The judge noted that Crisostomo is currently appealing two other sentences he is serving in the two criminal cases.

Camacho said he anticipates Crisostomo to also appeal his sentence in the Romero murder case.

A disadvantage of consecutive sentences, the judge said, is it risks—like a house of cards—the sentence falling apart when one of the sentences is overturned on appeal.

"Given Mr. Crisostomo’s capacity to wreak destruction in our community, the court endeavors to craft a sentence with a solid foundation to withstand an appeal," Camacho said.

Before handing down the sentence, Camacho enumerated 14 Department of Public Safety criminal cases that resulted in Crisostomo’s arrest but not forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General for prosecution.

Twelve other DPS criminal cases, including Romero’s murder, resulted in Crisostomo’s arrest and the cases were forwarded to the OAG for prosecution.

Camacho noted that he did not include Crisostomo’s extensive juvenile record.

"Mr. Crisostomo, given your extensive criminal history, it is obvious that past attempts at rehabilitation and deterrence have failed. You have demonstrated an unwillingness to change your criminal ways," the judge said.

Therefore, Camacho said, the court looks to retribution, which is punishment for the sake of punishment, and incapacitation, which is removal from the rest of the community.

Chief Prosecutor Brian Flaherty had recommended a sentence of life imprisonment with no parole "such that defendant remains imprisoned for the remainder of his natural life." He said the government’s recommendation is appropriate punishment and a protection to the community.

"This incident shook the community," Flaherty said.

He said there should be no more future probation hearings in this case and that Romero’s family should not have to come to court to testify again.

"The horrifying 911 call should not be heard again. It’s time for the community to move on," he said.

Attorney Janet H. King, counsel for Crisostomo, recommended a prison term of 15 years. She said if Crisostomo is given the maximum of 30 years, he will be 70 when he gets out of jail.

King asked the court to suspend or modify the rest of Crisostomo’s punishment so that it can be served under probation after serving a mandatory number of years.

After the hearing, King said he will talk with Crisostomo on what grounds they will appeal.

"He does have 30 days to file his appeal. And we intend to do so," she said.

Before the judge announced his sentence, he asked those who will recommend a lenient sentence to come to the podium, but no one did.

For those who don’t support leniency, Romero’s siblings, Eduardo and Estelita Relata, took the podium. They cried as they spoke, among other things, about the pain they and their family endured with the killing of their sister.

Romero’s friend, Josephine Togawa, and two former co-workers also became emotional when recalling their good memories of Romero and the pain they endured with her murder.

Romero’s then-employer, Scott Dottino, said they’re happy that justice has been served. He thanked local and federal investigators and other people who helped in the investigation.

Assistant attorney general Margo Brown-Badawy read a letter coming from Romero’s oldest daughter, Erica Mae, 19.

Erica Mae said their mother had promised them that, once she finishes college, their mother was going home to be with them and that they never have to be apart again.

"I know she’s watching both of us, my sister and I. We can start a new chapter now and continue our lives with her memories and dreams for us. My mother will always be in our hearts and always be remembered. We love her so much!" said Erica Mae who is going to be a junior in college this school year, taking up a civil engineering course in the Philippines.

Romero, 37, was last seen boarding a car near her house in Garapan in the early morning of Feb. 5, 2012. Two days later, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents found her body in a small room at an abandoned La Fiesta Mall in San Roque/As Matuis. Autopsy showed she was beaten and strangled to death with a pair of leggings.

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