Tucson man given life term in rape, murder case

2013-01-07T14:16:00Z Tucson man given life term in rape, murder caseKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A Tucson man was sentenced to life in prison, plus 14 years Monday for raping and murdering a 46-year-old woman at Freedom Park.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Christopher Browning told Frank Romero, 29, he was not giving him a chance at parole because of the extreme pain and horror Sandra Stevens must have endured during her last moments and because of Romero’s three prior felony convictions.

Two men on an early morning walk at Freedom Park found Stevens’ nude body on June 10, 2010, jurors were told during Romero’s trial in November.

Police found a man’s watch and a black T-shirt with the cartoon characters Beavis and Butthead on it near Stevens’ body, Deputy Pima County Attorney Ryan Schmidt said.

Officers and detectives also found clothes in a nearby dugout, blood, scuff marks, drag marks and footprints.

A couple of hours later, police saw Romero 180 yards away from Stevens’ body, washing his hands in a water fountain, Schmidt said. They also saw what appeared to be blood on his shoes.

An autopsy revealed Stevens, 46, died after being beaten and asphyxiated, Schmidt said. The autopsy also revealed injuries consistent with sodomy and rape.

DNA tests showed the blood on Romero's shoes was Stevens’ and his DNA was found inside her body, Schmidt said. The footprints leading from the dugout to Stevens' body also appear to have been made by Romero's shoes, he said.

Jurors also heard from a witness who kicked Stevens and Romero out of her house after finding them naked in her bed together the night before Stevens died. They were also shown surveillance tape taken at the apartment complex of Romero's girlfriend showing Romero wearing a Beavis and Butthead T-shirt that night.

On Monday, Deputy Pima County Attorney Anita Simons told Browning a natural life sentence was “absolutely warranted and absolutely fair” given the nature of the crime itself and the continuing risk Romero poses to the community.

Assistant Pima County Public Defender Leo Masursky asked that Romero be given a chance at release someday, saying his client can be rehabilitated. Romero is mentally disabled, has a low intelligence level, suffers from substance abuse issues and endured an “absolutely terrible” childhood, Masursky said.

Romero continues to maintain his innocence and Masursky said a now deceased man had the motive, means and opportunity to kill Stevens.

Masursky advised Romero not to make a statement Monday because he is appealing the jury’s verdict.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

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