By Dustin Brown
The murder conviction of a College Point man accused of slaying his former business partner and father figure 14 years ago in Astoria was thrown out last week by a Queens judge because of jury misconduct.
On Nov. 5, 2001, a jury of 12 people convicted Ralph Romano Jr. on second-degree murder charges in the June 1989 slaying of John Spensieri, who had been shot nine times in his Astoria home.
But Justice Arthur Cooperman set aside the verdict last Thursday after finding that jurors had flagrantly violated the rules of conduct by reading a newspaper story that tied Romano to the mob and passing notes that proclaimed Romano's guilt while alluding to him as a “slime ball.”
“There was an inexplicable disregard of the court's instructions that resulted in a pattern of widespread misconduct by many of the jurors,” Cooperman wrote in his decision. “A new trial is required because jurors conducted themselves in a manner that created a substantial likelihood of prejudice to defendant.”
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown was debating what course of action to take following Cooperman's decision.
“We are reviewing the court's decision to determine if there exists a basis to appeal,” a spokeswoman for Brown said. “If not, we are prepared to retry the case.”
Romano is currently being held on $2 million bail, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections said.
Romano had been partners with Spensieri, his mother's companion, in a Brooklyn carting business but eventually left to start up his own company in Queens.
The Queens district attorney had alleged that Romano stopped by the Astoria home Spensieri shared with his mother to discuss business on June 7, 1989, but then shot his former partner nine times after they started arguing. A decade passed before police arrested Romano, the owner of a painting company in College Point, in May 2000.
A year and a half after the conclusion of the trial that ended with Romano's conviction, Cooperman cited numerous instances of jury misconduct in voiding their verdict:
Although jurors were ordered not to discuss the case before deliberations began, many of them followed up witnesses' testimony by evaluating their credibility and voting on whether they thought Romano was guilty or innocent.
While the jurors were sequestered in a hotel, the alternates – who are forbidden from communicating with the deliberating jurors – passed a note urging them to convict Romano, who was referred to as a “slime ball” or a “scum ball” in the text.
Lastly, an October 2001 article in the New York Post that linked Romano to organized crime was not only read by also discussed by many jurors, despite their orders not to read any media coverage of the trial.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.