California Man With History of Domestic Violence Convicted of Killing Girlfriend

California Man With History of Domestic Violence Convicted of Killing Girlfriend

Aaron Romo (L) and Mirelle Mateus (R) are seen in file photos. (Courtesy of Anaheim Police Department)

City News Service

City News Service

5/30/2024

Updated: 5/30/2024

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SANTA ANA, Calif.—A 38-year-old Anaheim man was convicted Wednesday, May 29, of beating and strangling his girlfriend following a roughly yearlong tumultuous relationship.
Aaron Romo was convicted of first-degree murder, along with felony counts of domestic violence and false imprisonment. Jurors deliberated for about a day and a half.
Mr. Romo, who is scheduled to be sentenced June 24, faces at least 25 years to life in prison. He still faces a non-jury trial on an allegation that he committed the murder while out on bail for domestic violence against the same victim.
Mr. Romo allegedly physically assaulted 24-year-old Mirelle Mateus of La Palma on Dec. 5, 2022, before killing her on March 17, 2023.
The couple met in May 2022 through Jerit Wohlford, who briefly had dated Ms. Mateus and was a friend of Mr. Romo, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mark Birney said. Within a month of dating, Ms. Mateus moved in with Mr. Romo, Mr. Birney said.
Mr. Romo lived in a “luxury apartment” at 1901 Union St. and the two posted photos of themselves as a couple traveling to Hawaii and elsewhere during their relationship, Mr. Birney said.
But on Dec. 5, 2022, Mr. Romo allegedly beat Ms. Mateus, who was “thrown over a guardrail” of their apartment’s balcony, Mr. Birney said. Mr. Romo was charged with domestic violence, and on Dec. 14, 2022, he deliberately cut his arms and was taken to a hospital.
Despite a restraining order, the pair remained in contact, but the relationship had its ups and downs. On March 16 of last year, Mr. Wohlford talked Mr. Romo into going out on the town to help him get over Ms. Mateus, Mr. Birney said.
During that outing, Mr. Romo got into a conflict with a woman he was pursuing in a bar and she slapped him, leading security to kick the group out, Mr. Birney said. While they were in front of the establishment, Mr. Romo got into a fistfight and was knocked out, suffering two black eyes, according to the prosecutor.
Mr. Romo lost his phone, so his friend called for an Uber, and when the driver showed up, Mr. Romo used the Uber employee’s phone to repeatedly call Ms. Mateus until she answered and agreed to pick him up, Mr. Birney said.
She drove him back to his apartment about 2:15 a.m. and the two got into a violent struggle, Mr. Birney said. The victim’s mother—worried she could not reach her daughter—saw the victim had Mr. Wohlford in her call log, so she dialed him and he recounted what had happened the night before, Mr. Birney said. The mother went to Mr. Romo’s apartment and found her daughter’s body in Mr. Romo’s bathtub.
By then, Mr. Romo was in Temecula. He left his apartment about 4:50 a.m. and rode his motorcycle to the home of his other girlfriend, Stephanie Rodriguez, where he confessed to her before slashing his arms again, Mr. Birney said.
Mr. Romo’s attorney, Ricardo Nicol, argued that voluntary manslaughter “is the best fit” for the crime, not murder.
“Mr. Romo was extremely intoxicated that night,” Mr. Nicol said.
The defendant and Mr. Wohlford downed two-thirds of a bottle of vodka before they went out to party at the bar, Mr. Nicol said.
“And he was acting like a drunk,” Mr. Nicol said of his client’s misbehavior in the club. “He got in a dumb fight where he was severely beaten.”
Mr. Nicol argued that “being that drunk impairs your ability to carefully weigh and consider the consequences of your actions.”
Mr. Nicol also said the defendant suffered a concussion in the bar fight, which further impaired his ability to think through his actions.
“This head injury alone takes him out of premeditation and deliberation,” which are necessary elements for a first-degree murder conviction, Mr. Nicol argued.
He further argued it would also remove second-degree murder as a possible consequence as well.
“It’s fair to argue that but for the head injury Mirelle would still be alive,” Mr. Nicol said.
Mr. Birney countered that for a voluntary manslaughter conviction, the defense would have to show there was some provocation of the act of killing the victim.
“There is no evidence Mirelle did anything to provoke him. None. It doesn’t exist,” Mr. Birney argued.
Mr. Birney noted there was no evidence Ms. Mateus was unfaithful to Mr. Romo, and, the prosecutor added, “He’s going out with so many women he can’t even remember their names.”
There was evidence presented during the trial that Mr. Romo had five restraining orders with five women, with two saying he choked them during angry conflicts, according to Mr. Birney.
Mr. Birney said the victim was “fighting for her life” as he strangled and beat her, as the prosecutor argued for first-degree murder.
Mr. Romo’s head injury didn’t prevent the defendant from riding 65 miles on his motorcycle to his girlfriend’s house, Mr. Birney said. It also didn’t stop him from hiding the victim’s phone or avoiding police, Mr. Birney said.
It also didn’t stop the defendant from scrawling on a wall and mirror at his home, Mr. Birney said.
“This is a case in which he beat her and strangled her, and his size and strength matters,” Mr. Birney said of the defendant, who took enough pride in his bodybuilding to post photos of himself at the gym on social media.
As for provocation, given the defendant’s muscular physique, “Why would she” provoke him, Mr. Birney asked.
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