Reginald S. Lewis
PO Box 244
Graterford, PA 19426-0244
Several years ago, the Senate Judiciary
Committee convened to hear testimony on why they should declare a
moratorium on the imposition of the Death Penalty in the State of
Pennsylvania. Since the hearings concluded, there has been no
moratorium imposed on executions. Several Pennsylvania death row
inmates were granted new sentencing hearings or awarded new trials.
Three more were released from death row after they were found to be
And only recently-there was massive media coverage of another Pennsylvania death row inmate exonerated by DNA. But for same inextricable reason, the local and national media have chosen to ignore the disturbing details in the case of an innocent Latino man on Pennsylvania's death row-Edwin Rios Romero.
THE WRONG RIDE TO DEATH ROW
It was December 27,1994, two days after
Christmas and Eddie Romero, 29, had been in the mainland in Florida
only days before the attempted robbery and strangulation murder of
David Bolasky, Vice President and Project Manager at Wallace and
Watson, an architectural firm. Bolasky also owned several
rental properties in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
Eddie and his co-defendants, George Ivan Lopez and George Ortiz Barbosa had been driving around Florida partying. They did cocaine and heroin and drank rum. Lopez asked his compadres if they would like to bring in the New Year with his family in Jersey City, New Jersey- and without hesitation Eddie said, "Ta Bien. Bamonos." Most of his Christmases and New Years were celebrated in the hot tropical climate on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico-and the thought of breathing the fresh wintry air into his lungs and frolicking in the crisp white mounds of snow for the first time filled him with excited anticipation.
They arrived at Lopez's sister's house on Decernber 29,1994, exchanged christmas presents, partied some more, ate, and slept. While there, Lopez's sister received a telephone call from her son, Miguel Moreno, who lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Moreno was Lopez's nephew. He asked to speak to him. He wanted to visit his Mamita, he said. Could he pick him up? Eddie knew immediately that he didn't like this guy. He talked too much-IN ENGLISH, a foreign tongue he couldn't understand. He was snorting too much of their coca. And he couldn't even look Eddie in his eyes, which only deepened his suspicion of George Lopez's slimy little nephew, who didn't seem to speak or understand Spanish-the native tongue Eddie spoke. Miguel Moreno dropped off gifts for his Mother ,and on January 3,1995, Lopez, Barbosa, Moreno and Eddie boarded a bus from Manhattan, New York back to Allentown, Pennsylvania. They entered a pizzeria and placed an order for pizzas and sodas. Moreno told his uncle he had to get back to his apartment at 625 North 6th Street to check on his wife.
He quickly returned, visibly agitated, Eddie noticed. The slimy nephew pulled Barbosa and his uncle to the side. They whispered conspiratorially, in english. Edwin Rios Romero couldn't have known that Moreno was secretly plotting how to lure David Bolasky, his landlord, into his apartment, so that Lopez and Barbosa could rob him. Nor was he privy to the knowledge that Miguel Moreno was depressed and distraught over learning that his pretty wife, a young Latino, had been cheating on him with David Bolasky, who showered her with attention and lavish gifts and the privilege of living "rent free' in the apartment-in exchange for sex. The thought of a rich white man screwing his wife was a fatal wound that burrowed deep into his macho pride and sense of honor-and the potent combination of the drugs and alcohol only heightened his hatred and rage. He wanted revenge.
Lopez, Moreno, and Barbosa suggested that Eddie wait in the pizza shop until they got back. Eddie nodded, said, 'Ta Bien", grabbed his soda and sat down to eat his pizza.
Night had fallen by the time they returned. Eddie looked up as they rushed into the pizzeria. Sweat poured profusely down their dark olive faces. Why were they acting so fidgety and nervous? He thought. He noticed how they kept peering over their shoulders. Their strange, erratic behavior spooked him. "Let's go. We have to ride - NOW!!" Lopez barked. Outside, a white van was parked at the curb. Eddie followed them as they crossed the street and jumped into the van. George Lopez took the wheel. Eddie slid onto the front seat, on the passenger Side. He turned toward Moreno and Barbosa in the back seat. "What is the matter with you guys?" he asked in spanish, but no one spoke. It was pitch black inside the white Van owner their shoulders he could make out the hazy outline of what appeared to be a large carpet or thick blanket rolled up in the back of the van, along with a crumpled mass of gift wrapping paper, a small larnp and two cardboard boxes.
He asked them what was in the boxes, and the other items, but Barbosa told him not to worry about it. It was just some garbage they had to dispose of. Lopez drove to a secluded area-a barren stretch of land, perhaps the city dump, though he had no idea where he was. He watched them unload the items from the back of the van and dropped them unto the ground. George Lopez told them he had to return the van to its owner.
Then they went their separate ways.
INJUSTICIA EN UN LENGUAJE QUE EL NO ENTIENDE
The murder of David Bolasky stunned this small tightly-knit
community, and night after night the horrific crime was the lead
story that dominated the evening news. The Allentown Morning Call
Newspaper churned out a series of articles focusing on the crime and
the search for the killer or killers.
The relentless media coverage tossed a glaring spotlight upon the Lehigh County Police department to solve this high profile murder of a prominent white businessman-and detective Hanna, the lead investigator, was under enormous pressure from his superiors to make an arrest in this case. They didn't care how he did it. Someone had to pay for this crime. Miguel Moreno, the victim's tenant became a prime suspect in the murder. When Moreno was arrested, detective Hanna and his partner , detective O'Donald, leaned on him hard. Moreno gave no less than twelve different statements about what occurred inside his apartment and each version varied in details. After he named his uncle George Lopez, Barbosa and Eddie, as his co-conspirators, they were arrested and charged with murder. Barbosa gave a statement implicating his cronies. George Lopez's statement was voluminous. Edwin Romero never confessed to anything. He chose to remain silent. There was nothing that he could tell them. He was not in Miguel Moreno's third floor apartment the day David Bolasky was murdered. He didn't know anything about it, nor was involved in any way.
Detective Hanna assured Moreno that his wife, Lissette Ranan, would also be arrested and prosecuted, their children taken away-and that they would both be executed. "You can count on that", he said. The threats chilled him to the bone, and Miguel Moreno agreed to cooperate with the police and prosecutor-but only if they left his wife and kids alone-and he would be spared the death penalty. The interrogation of Jorge Barbosa was equally merciless and cruel :"Listen, you little punk, you're gonna tell me what I want to hear-or you're gonna fry, you filthy spic. Fry. You hear me?"
"Just tell us about Eddie", they barked at George Lopez. "We wanna know about Eddie. Eddie!"
The Detectives didn't care about decorurn, civility, the question of innocence or a suspect's constitutional right to remain silent. The statements had to be tailored to Hanna's own specifications to insure the convictions.
Jorge Barbosa and Miguel Moreno pled guilty to the murder and attempted robbery of David Bolasky-and were spared the death penalty .But the Prosecution needed something more solid on Edwin Romero, because not a single shred of physical or scientific evidence connected him to the murder.
They had just the person: Danny Lopez (no relation to George Lopez), was a known Jailhouse Informant who'd testified against countless defendants for the State and F.B.I., who always awarded him for the information he provided. He was a wormy little coward who gained the confidence of his targets before betraying them. His illustrious criminal career spanned decades, and included arrests and convictions for offenses such as Aggravated Assault, Rape, Drug Dealing and Attempted Murder. He was awaiting trial for attempting to run over a Pennsylvania State Trooper during a Car jacking-which no doubt would've put him behind bars for a very long time. The Lehigh County Prosecutor's office arranged for Lopez to be Eddie's collmate. He tried to elicit a confession from Edwin Rios Romero but he steadfastly maintained his innocence. At the trial, Danny Lopez testified that Eddie told him that he was, indeed, inside Moreno's apartment at the time of the murder-testimony he
knew was false.
Eddie was unable to speak, read, write, or understand english, nor the raging storm of unmitigating lies and blatant falsities that swirled about him. The court adamantly refused to grant him an interpreter-nor did his attorney request one. Eddie was lost and bewildered. Before his trial Commenced, a plethora of inflammatory articles portrayed him as a murderous beast. The headline in the March 25, 1996 edition of the Allentown Morning Call, read: SHERIFF PUTS STUNBELTS TO TEST AT MURDER TRIAL.
Eddie recalled how the all-white jury glared at him and his co-defendant throughout the trial. But only Eddie was forced to wear the stunbelt and shackles. A stunbelt produces an eight second 50,000 volt shock-far more powerful than an electric chair. A court officer sat nearby, a cold white finger poised to push the button like a trigger happy cowboy waiting for the slightest twitch or movement from the defendant. But Eddie was always polite, cordial, respectful and threatened no one.
Eddie remembers one particular courtroom scene with a clarity: Both Moreno and Barbosa kept pointing their fingers at Lopez everytime he heard the Prosecutor mention his last name, "Romero" .When Barbosa took the stand, there was a heated exchange between him and the prosecutor, who glared, shouted, as he turned furiously toward Barbosa then back at Eddie. His chest heaved, his voice boomed thunderously, as his fore finger jutted out menacingly-like a ballistic missile coming straight at Edwin Romero.
Prosecutor: Tell the jury about the involvement of Edwin Rios Romero in the murder of David Bolasky!
Barbosa: I don't have anything to say about Edwin.
Prosecutor: Alright. Are you saying Mr. .Barbosa, that you will not testify at all about Edwin Romero?
The prosecutor then dismissed the jury and threatened Barbosa with contempt if he didn't testify about Eddie's alleged involvement in the murder. But Jorge Barbosa said he had no fear of whatever the court wanted to do to him-Eddie was innocent.
Since his unjust conviction, the Governor of
Pennsylvania has signed death warrants for Edwin Romero on two
occasions-and he once came within days of being executed. Perhaps
it was a million pinpricks of agony and quilt or the thought that
they could be responsible for the execution of an innocent man, that
compelled all three of Eddie's co-defendants to come forward with
actual evidence absolving him of any role and complicity in this
heinous murder .At a hearing, Barbosa recalled his interaction with
Captain Bucarey, known from Maine to Puerto Rico for eliciting
confessions from suspects utilizing the most brutal physical and
...he was pressing me, he was pressing me, threatening me that they were going to give me the death penalty. I am telling you, he was pressuring me, that he wanted to hear something about Edwin, too. So I told him a lie, but I told him.
Barbosa backed up his in-court testimony with a sworn affidavit:
"I, Jorge L. Ortiz Barbosa, do hereby declare and verify as follows: In January of 1995, I was involved in the murder of David Bolasky. The statement that I gave the Detective under duress was not true... the truth is that Edwin was not even in the apartment when Mr. .Bolasky was murdered..."
On March 10,2000, Miguel Moreno came forth with his sworn affidavit. Listen:
"My name is Miguel Moreno. I testified against Edwin Romero in his trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. My Testimony at his trial was not true. I never saw Edwin Romero go upstairs into my apartment even though in previous statements and at trial I did say that..."
George Ivan Lopez was the last co-defendant to come forward, on April 23,2003. Listen:
"...I cooperated and allowed Detective Hanna to coach me in what to say against Mr. .Romero and to avoid further charges, and to also keep my 70 year old mother from having to face charges..."
Eddie's incompetent Court-Appointed Attorney had to have known about this exculpatory evidence at the time of Eddie's trial-so why didn't he effectively cross-examine them about their perjured testimony? Why didn't he move to have Eddie's trial severed from Lopez' s? According to US Census data at the time, there were 6,776 African-Americans and 15,001 Hispanic-Americans available to serve on Eddie's jury-so why didn't the court insure the defendant that he had a constitutional right to be tried by a jury of his peers? Particularly if it was quite unusual for a minority person to sit on a jury in Lehigh County -why didn't Eddie's lawyer at least ask for a "Change of Venue", considering all the racially inflammatory media coverage?
Why didn't he ask the court to appoint a translator, so that Eddie could assist in his defense? Eddie desperately wanted to testify in his own behalf to clear his name. Had he been given that opportunity, he would have said:
"Yo soy 100% innocent Y Yo tengo evidencia que claramente me exonera de estos cargos. Yo no tengo absolutamente nada que ver con este asesinato. Yo no estaba en el apartarnento."
© Copyright 2003 Reginald S. Lewis
1. "Okay. Let's go."
5. "INJUSTICE IN A LANGUAGE HE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND".
6."I am 100% innocent and I have evidence that clears me from these charges. I had absolutely nothing to do with this murder. I wasn't even in the apartment."
Eddie desperately needs your help to win his Freedom. If you're a law firm, Investigator, and can help him establish a legal defense fund, please .write to him:
Edwin Rios Romero, #CZ3206
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, Pennsylvania 15370-8089
Reginald S. Lewis is a Widely Published, Award-Winning poet, essayist, and a playwright-also on Pennsylvania's death row. He is the author of two books of poetry, entitled, LEAVING DEATH ROW and INSIDE MY HEAD
Reggie's web pages