Suspect ordered to stand trial in alleged dog dragging death
January 8, 2010
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – A federal judge ordered a Western Slope man to stand trial Thursday in connection with the dragging death of a dog in the Colorado National Monument.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laird Milburn issued the ruling at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing in the case against Steven Romero, 37. The hearing was held Thursday afternoon in federal court at the Wayne N. Aspinall Building in Grand Junction.
Milburn, said in part, that the “evidence produced here today establishes probable cause” to bound the case over for trial.
The judge also ordered Romero held without bond. Romero stands accused of aggravated animal cruelty. He faces up to three years in prison if convicted as charged.
Romero is to be arraigned at 4 p.m. Jan. 27 in federal court in Grand Junction.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer called one witness during the hearing, which lasted more than 90 minutes and drew close to 100 people.
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U.S. Park Ranger Clinton Forte testified he received a telephone call from his supervisor early in the morning of Dec. 30 regarding a report of a dog discovered on a road that runs through the monument.
Forte said when he got to the location he found a dog, whom he later identified as Buddy, with a “rope tied around its neck that was designed to tighten” as it pulled.
The statement seemed to catch several people in attendance off guard as some gasped at the disclosure about the dog – a German shepherd mix.
He said a vehicle, later identified as a red pickup truck, had dragged the dog, which was dead when he arrived at the scene. A subsequent investigation in the incident pinpointed Romero as the driver of the truck.
He said the pickup truck, which belongs to a girlfriend of Romero, was located outside the Fruita residence of the suspect’s sister when a witness saw Romero drive off with Buddy in the back of the “red truck.” Romero was apparently staying at the residence.
That occurred about 2 a.m. Dec. 30. A maintenance worker found the dog about 4:30 a.m. near the first tunnel on the west side of the monument.
Forte said the witness also said he saw Romero return in the truck without the dog. The witness was apparently awakened by loud music coming from the truck.
Forte also said that surveillance tape showed Buddy was in the back of the truck, when the vehicle entered the monument about 2:18 a.m. Forte said he was able to identify the dog by a “white patch” on his chest.
He said as authorities continued to look into the matter, they determined that Buddy was one of two dogs, which had been stolen prior to the incident at the monument. The other dog, which also belongs to a Delta resident, was returned to authorities.
Heldmyer characterized the alleged incident as a “crime that shocks the conscience of a nation.”