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Suspect in officer's murder released

Defense Atty.: Get out of town
September 10, 2008 8:53:46 PM PDT
Charges were dropped Wednesday against the only suspect in the slaying of an off-duty police officer.Jason Austin, 26, was released from Cook County Jail around 3 p.m. Wednesday. He did not comment as he left the building.

"I feel very relieved and happy and I want to appreciate and thank everyone for believing in him and standing by him," said Ruthie Austin, freed suspect's mother.

On August 18, Austin was charged in the deadly shooting of off-duty Police Officer Robert Soto and his friend, Kathryn Romberg, a social worker.

About three weeks later, those charges were dropped- during a short court hearing. Prosecutors did not provide the judge and explanation for the change of heart; they didn't have to.

"He's not a cop killer. I just want everyone to know that. I love him very much and know he wouldn't have done anything like this," said Ruthie Austin.

The state's case against Austin unraveled when witnesses who originally placed him at the scene changed their stories. The final blow to prosecutors came when it was revealed Austin's maroon Buick Regal was at a repair shop at the time of the murder. Police originally believed Austin's car was used as the getaway car.

"I visited the gentleman at the shop. He was reluctant to talk to me," said Tom Romano, private investigator.

In an exclusive ABC7 interview, private investigator Tom Romano says when the repair shop owner finally did talk, prosecutors listened.

"He was 100-percent sure the vehicle was in the shop on the day of the shooting and my client, Mr. Austin, did not pick the vehicle up until the following day, on the 14th," said Romano.

Police and prosecutors declined to talk on camera but released a joint statement: Today's court action does not preclude any future charges. This investigation is vigorously going forward, and we will pursue any evidence wherever it may lead us.

Austin left the Cook County Jail this afternoon without commenting -- his lawyer, though, did share one piece of advice he's offering his client.

"He could be dropping gum on the sidewalk and be picked up in the next 25 minutes. So my advice to him in the back was, 'Get the heck out of town,'" said David Wiener, defense attorney.

Austin spent some time in jail after being convicted on drug charges and aggravated battery.

Police would not say whether the department still believes he was involved in Soto and Romberg's murders.


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