Double-murder witnesses' statements reportedly change

September 8, 2008 4:02:02 PM PDT
There may be problems with the investigation into the shooting deaths of an off-duty Chicago police officer and a woman. Officer Robert Soto and Kathryn Romberg were killed while sitting in a car on the city's West Side last month.

Sources say the problems involve statements made by eye witnesses who have now changed their stories.

Twenty-six-year-old Jason Austin is charged with first-degree murder for the killings.

Beginning the morning of the murders and continuing for most of a week, the investigation into the August 13 shootings of off-duty detective Soto and his friend, Romberg, was one of most intensive this summer. Police raided nearby houses in the east Garfield Park neighborhood, detained or questioned dozens of people and reviewed hours of videotapes made by surveillance cameras. On August 18, detectives charged Austin.

In court, prosecutors alleged that Austin, driving his maroon Buick Regal with two passengers in it, pulled up behind Soto's SUV, pulled a gun and demanded money before he fired fatal shots into both victims. ABC7 has learned that the passengers, who initially were prosecution witnesses, now say they were not in Austin's car that morning and that their earlier statements had been coerced by their police interrogators.

Late last month, a private investigator hired by Austin's lawyer reportedly produced sworn affidavits from the owner and an employee of a West Side auto repair shop, claiming that Austin's Buick Regal was in the shop being repaired the morning of August 13.

"We have absolute evidence that it was in an auto shop having body work done," said David Wiener, attorney for Austin. "The car was picked up about a day and a half after the shooting took place."

Austin, who has five prior convictions and served two short prison terms for aggravated battery and drug possession, has been held in the Cook County Jail without bond. On Monday, Police Superintendent Jody Weis refused to discuss details of the investigation but acknowledged there were problems with it.

"Its still a pending investigation. I'd prefer not to speak on those, there's just some things we're gonna have to overcome," Weis said.

Austin is due in court Wednesday at noon. If there is no grand jury indictment by then, there would be a preliminary hearing where Austin's lawyers would present the evidence and testimony that contradicts the police investigation.

Austin's lawyer is quoted in a published report saying there's a "50-50 chance" the charges will be dropped.


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