Illegal immigrant guilty of Morristown rape
Man, 28, attacked woman with help of stranger
BY PEGGY WRIGHT DAILY RECORD Wednesday, May 23, 2007
39 Comments An illegal immigrant from Honduras, who first claimed he was offered sex by a woman in Morristown in exchange for $200, broke down crying Tuesday before admitting to a judge he pulled the victim off a sidewalk and raped her with the help of a passing stranger.
Joel Armando Romero, 28, pleaded guilty before state Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Falcone in Morristown to kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault of the victim on July 10, 2005. The victim has been identified as a young adult from London who was temporarily in the United States working as an intern.
Romero, who recently was given his fifth court-appointed lawyer, chose to affirm in court rather than swear on the Holy Bible. Through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Romero told the judge: "The Bible is sacred. I don't want to put my hand on the Bible."
The judge led Romero through a lengthy explanation of his plea bargain, and how he will have to register as a convicted sex offender under Megan's Law when he is released from prison, if he is not deported to Honduras.
Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood said the state's recommendation for Romero is 30 years in prison, but the judge said he would impose no more than 20 years, with 85 percent of the term to be served before parole eligibility.
Romero -- who said he finished just four elementary school grades in Honduras -- said he was at a bar in town close to 2 a.m. on July 10, 2005, and spotted the woman walking alone on the street as he stood in the tavern doorway. He said he walked with her and struck up a conversation, inquiring "Where's your boyfriend?" He claimed, at first, that the woman solicited him for sex.
"She said she was not looking for a boyfriend. She said she was looking for money," Romero said, prompting Calderwood to rise from her chair in the courtroom.
Romero said the woman told him she would have sex for $200, a statement that caused the judge to halt the proceeding and warn Romero that he was under oath to tell the truth.
Romero bowed his head and started crying, saying: "It's very difficult for me." After conferring for several minutes with defense lawyer William G. Johnson, Romero admitted that he pulled the woman off the sidewalk into nearby woods and raped her.
He said a passing stranger -- later identified as Morristown resident Juan Amendano -- approached him, pulled off the woman's pants and fondled her breasts while he, Romero, forced intercourse on the victim.
"He said he wanted to rape her first," Romero claimed of Amendano. Romero said he assaulted the victim first, before police showed up.
Amendano pleaded guilty in April to aggravated sexual assault, telling the judge he came upon Romero raping the woman in a patch of woods off Lafayette Avenue.
Amendano, who faces eight to 10 years in prison on his plea, said he held the woman down at Romero's request. The woman's cries for help were heard and reported to police, who caught Amendano running away and Romero on top of the victim. Both have been held in the Morris County jail since their arrests.