Police: Store clerk killed beer thief
Juan Romero was charged Sunday with murder.
By Jeremy Schwartz, Andrea Lorenz
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
A clerk at a Ben White Boulevard convenience store has been charged with murder after police say he shot and killed a man who was stealing a 12-pack of Budweiser early Sunday morning.
Jorge Luis Vielma, 22, and another man were on a "beer run," according to police, and attempted to flee after taking the beer. Police say Juan Romero, 23, a clerk at the Shell gasoline station at Ben White and South First Street, fired about a dozen shots at Vielma outside the store as he ran for a friend's waiting Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Vielma later died inside the car; his body was found early Sunday in the 1000 block of Mansell Avenue in East Austin.
Romero was charged Sunday with first-degree murder and was being held Monday at the Travis County Jail. His bail has been set at $250,000. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
According to an arrest affidavit, Vielma and a friend, David Campos, 30, were looking for a store to take beer from and settled on the Shell station. Campos told police that he parked the car while Vielma went inside for the beer. Campos said he then saw Vielma emerge running from the store and a short man with a limp in pursuit firing at him.
After Vielma made it back to the car, Campos said that he went "into shock" and drove mindlessly to Mansell Avenue, abandoned the car and fled. He later called 911 to anonymously report the shooting, according to the affidavit.
Police found the car, which was registered to Campos, shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday. When police arrived at Campos' apartment on East Oltorf Street, he was in the process of reporting his car as stolen, according to the arrest affidavit, but police said he soon admitted his role in the incident. Police didn't say whether Campos would be charged.
Police said they later interviewed Romero, who said he fired a pistol about 12 times at Vielma, picked up the shell casings and put them in his vehicle.
He also told police that he picked up the beer dropped by Vielma and threw it into a trash bin, and he deleted images of the incident from the store's video surveillance system.
Sgt. Joseph Chacon said that although Texas law allows residents to take reasonable measures to defend their property, officials determined that, "at least on the face of it," the shooting was not reasonable.
He said it did not appear that Vielma was armed at the time of the theft.
Chacon said police are still trying to determine who owned the gun used in the shooting. The store's owner, Josť Carranza, told police that he had not authorized Romero to use deadly force to protect the store's property.
Carranza said Monday that he did not know where Romero got the gun and that firearms are not kept in the store.
Theft, however, has been a constant problem for Carranza and his clerks, he said.
A sign taped to the door of the store addresses beer theft: "Due to the high number of dishonest people grabbing and running away (and) stealing our beer, we must require prepayment for beer."
Carranza said that people have stolen from the store at least 10 times this year and that store clerks were robbed at gunpoint four times in the past two years.
Each time, Carranza said, he was unable to get the attention of police, even though his workers were being threatened.
"I'm frustrated with police," Carranza said. "They told us that's not our priority. Now it's a priority because somebody got hurt."
Statistics from police on incident reports at that address were not immediately available.
Consulting police records, Cpl. Scott Perry said there have been several thefts, but only one report of a robbery at the store in the past two years — in November — and that the suspect in that case was not armed. A robbery is defined as threatening or causing injury in the course of committing a theft.