ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The judge had some harsh words for the man convicted of murdering Rio Rancho Officer Gregg Benner, telling Andrew Romero that he will “die in prison.”
Friday, in a packed courtroom that included the officer’s friends and family, the judge sentenced Romero to life without parole.
After the judge handed down the sentence, he called Officer Benner’s widow, Julie, up to the bench and handed her the badge and pin Officer Benner wore up until the day he was murdered.
“This is what I’ve been waiting for, the last thing that was on him, and I know this would have been one of the last things he touched and put on,” said Julie Benner. “He was so proud of this and I’m proud of this and I’ll keep it next to my heart always.”
Before Romero was hauled off to prison, Judge George Eichwald looked at Romero and said he couldn’t tell him what he really thought of him, but left him with this.
“I will only say five words to you…that will follow you when you’re 30, 40, 50, and 60, those five words Mr. Romero are ‘you will die in prison,’” said Judge Eichwald.
Romero sat forward in his chair, even smirking at times, as Officer Benner’s widow and fellow officers addressed the court asking the judge to show no remorse.
Judge Eichwald told Romero the court gave him a fair trial.
Two of the twelve jurors who found Romero guilty of murder last Friday, showed up in court and told KRQE News 13 it was a difficult trial, but say ultimately prosecutors did their job in proving Romero was the killer.
“It’s not easy, even though we did the right thing, it’s not easy to put a man in a box for the rest of his life so I just wanted to be here,” said Katherine Hower, juror.
Romero’s attorneys also had a chance to address the court Friday. They tried to humanize Romero telling the judge that he was not a monster, that he was someone’s son and grandson.
The judge tacked on another twenty-and-a-half years to the life sentence for his other crimes, like armed robbery.
Tabitha Littles was also sentenced Friday. Littles is Romero’s ex-girlfriend who was with him the night he shot Officer Benner.
She was charged with Officer Benner’s murder after prosecutors argued she didn’t do anything to warn Officer Benner Romero was armed and planned to shoot him. But that murder charge was dropped when she agreed to testify against Romero.
Littles was also shot that night in the foot.
The judge sentenced Tabitha to 16 years, the minimum allowed under the plea deal. She could be out in as little as eight with good time.
Julie Benner was emotional in court as she read a letter she wrote to the judge about how Romero took everything from her.
“When I leave here I go home to an empty house, I will not see Gregg’s smile, and I will not be able to touch Gregg or feel his warmth and I will not hear Gregg’s voice, I will never experience his smell,” said Julie Benner. “You see, I am now alone because Andrew Romero sentenced me to a life without Gregg.”
KRQE News 13 spoke one-on-one with Julie about the sentence and asked her what she thought about the defense’s words at sentencing, we’ll have more from her coming up tonight at 10.