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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Woman with him in vehicle also slain; 23-year veteran was able to describe 3 assailants to investigators

By Frank Main, Erica L. Green and Annie Sweeney
The Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO - When Robert Soto joined the Chicago Police Department in 1985, his wife lost sleep worrying about him.
"I was afraid it was going to cost him his life," said Elda Negron, who divorced Soto after a 14-year marriage but remained friends with him.
"He wanted to be a police officer since he was little," Negron said. "He thought he was going to get in there and stop all the crime in Chicago."
Soto -- who started out in some of Chicago's toughest districts as a beat officer and advanced to detective during his 23-year career -- was off duty early Wednesday when he and a woman were fatally shot while they sat in a car in the 3000 block of West Franklin Boulevard.
Kathryn Romberg, 45, was pronounced dead at the scene. Soto, 49, died about 3:05 a.m. Thursday at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Police said Soto told officers someone had tried to rob him. He gave police a description of three assailants. About two weeks ago, another armed robbery took place about a block away.
Soto was a hardworking, straightforward officer who did anything he was asked, said Soto's former boss Robert Hargesheimer, commander of the Youth Investigations Section.
Hargesheimer said he visited Soto and his family in the hospital and "reassured them that anything we can do will be done to catch the perpetrators."
For about nine years, Soto monitored curfew violations and school absenteeism, Hargesheimer said. He earned 55 honorable mentions during his career, officials said.
"He had a lot of friends here," Hargesheimer said. "It's very sad up here."
Soto, known as Bob, joined the Bomb and Arson Section in January.
Before he became a cop, he worked in public relations for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he developed a friendship with legendary columnist Irv Kupcinet.
Soto was one of a few dozen Chicago Police officers who scrambled to New York after 9/11 to assist in the recovery effort.
"This is all about brotherhood," Soto said at the time.
A Sun-Times story described how Soto and other officers trudged up the stairs of broken high-rises to search for victims of the terror attacks. They worked side by side with New York police.
"He was always there on the front lines ready to volunteer," his former wife said.
A former partner, John Paskey, was in New York with Soto.
"One day, he said, 'I don't care what I gotta do, I'm going.' I said, 'Bobby, so am I.' "
Negron said Soto was happily remarried. He and his wife, Jennifer, loved to hold barbecues, and Negron and her husband would attend. "We remained very close," she said.
Negron said she and Soto have an adult son and daughter from their marriage.
When she remarried, she had another son and daughter. Sometimes, Soto would help her out and pick them up from school, she said.
Soto also took care of a brother -- a military veteran -- who suffered serious head injuries when he was robbed in Chicago, Paskey said.
"He was selfless in taking care of his brother," Paskey said.
Romberg was a supervisor in the Division of Child Protection at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where she worked for 13 years. She and her 27-year-old daughter lived in a gentrified section of the violence-plagued neighborhood straddling East Garfield Park and Humboldt Park.
Friends said Romberg planned to spend the evening before the shooting with a man she just met -- a detective she believed was unmarried.
Police did not provide information about why they were in Soto's sport-utility vehicle.
One of Soto's handguns was locked in the glove box and police have found a second handgun he owned, a law enforcement source said. He was wearing his police star around his neck when he was shot, the source said. Police said a car was spotted speeding from the scene after the shooting.
The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7 is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of whoever killed Soto and Romberg.
Visitation for Romberg is from 6 to 9 p.m. today at Michalik Funeral Home, 1056 W. Chicago Ave. Mass will be Saturday at St. John Cantius Church, 825 N. Carpenter.

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Man charged in slaying of Chicago cop

By David Heinzmann
The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO - A 26-year-old man has been charged in connection with the slayings of Chicago Police Officer Robert Soto and DCFS supervisor Kathryn Romberg, Chicago police said Monday.
Jason Austin of the 500 block of North LeClaire Avenue was charged with two counts of murder and one count of robbery, police said.
Soto played a key role in finding Austin, said Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrne.
"If we didn't have Detective Soto's own words, motive would have been open to speculation," he said, adding that robbery was the motive.
After he was shot, Soto called 911 and said he been shot and was the victim of a robbery. He said three men had fled in a maroon car. Police found Soto's empty wallet on the floorboard of his sport-utility vehicle.
Police had been questioning Austin since 10 a.m. Saturday. He was arrested at his home, police said.
As first reported by the Tribune on Saturday, police picked up the suspect Saturday morning after three days on the trail of an alleged robbery crew that investigators suspect committed the slayings, according to law-enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.
Soto, 49, and Romberg, 45, a supervisor with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, were shot early Wednesday in the 3000 block of West Franklin Boulevard on the West Side.
Romberg died at the scene; Soto died early Thursday.
"Two families still grieve but they are relieved," said Police Supt. Jody Weis at a news conference held to announce the charges.
Police were tight-lipped about the hunt for the other members of Austin's alleged robbery crew.
Austin has five felony convictions on his record, mostly for narcotics, police said.
Sources said earlier that Austin is believed to head a robbery crew based in the area near Kedzie Avenue and Ohio Street.
Authorities had a strong suspicion about the identity of the killer based on the description Soto gave of his attackers before he lost consciousness, according to two law-enforcement sources.
Saturday morning, police gang intelligence investigators and members of the U.S. marshals' fugitive task force were canvassing the area around the crime scene when they interviewed at least one person who gave them information leading to the man they picked up later in the morning, said a third law-enforcement source.
Soto, a 23-year veteran, had been sitting in his SUV for more than an hour talking with Romberg. They were parked on the street outside her condominium.
Romberg, also a part-time real estate agent, lived with a daughter in her early 20s, according to neighbors.

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Suspect in Chicago Officer's Murder Will Go Free

FRANK MAIN, ANNIE SWEENEY and STEFANO ESPOSITO

Authorities made the gut-wrenching decision Tuesday to release their sole suspect in the slaying of Chicago Police Officer Robert Soto.
Prosecutors are expected to seek the dismissal of murder and robbery charges against Jason Austin, 26, in court today. "We're faced with witnesses recanting because they fear retaliation. The integrity of the investigation is solid. We're going to continue to follow the evidence," one police official said.
Detectives were trying to prove a pattern of intimidation after witnesses started changing their stories, a source said. Police and prosecutors held a tense, high-level meeting at police headquarters Tuesday before deciding to release Austin, the Sun-Times first reported on its Web site.
"I am elated because the kid didn't do it," said Austin's attorney, David Wiener. "There is just no question in my mind. He said, 'I didn't do it.' "
Wiener praised State's Attorney Dick Devine and his office, saying, "They told me two weeks ago if I proved my client did not commit that crime, they would throw the case out."
Spokesmen for the police and the state's attorney's office declined comment.
Officers who investigated the killing were "sick to their stomach" about the decision, a source said. "Rotten,'' was how another high-ranking police official put it.
Soto, 49, and Kathryn Romberg, 45, a social worker for the state Department of Children and Family Services, were shot to death about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 13 as they sat in Soto's SUV outside her home in the 3000 block of West Franklin Boulevard. She died at the scene. He died a day later.
Austin, who served two stints in prison for aggravated battery and drug possession, was charged Aug. 18. Police spoke to witnesses who said Austin pulled up behind Soto's SUV, drew a gun and fired four shots during a holdup. The witnesses included two people in Austin's car, prosecutors said at his bond hearing last month.
Soto managed to call 911. He said he was robbed, described three attackers and added that a maroon car fled west. Four other witnesses heard the shots and saw Austin's car go by, prosecutors said. After the robbery, Austin allegedly told a friend that he "hit a lick" -- a holdup.
Police later seized Austin's Buick Regal. The car matched the description Soto gave and it matched a car captured on a security camera leaving the shooting, authorities said.
But last month, Wiener sent an investigator to a West Side repair shop. The owner and an employee told the investigator that Austin's maroon Buick Regal was in the shop Aug. 12 and was still there the next day, several hours after the shootings. Wiener said he approached prosecutors with his findings.
Despite the decision to free Austin, the victims' families support the police. "We're sure they're going to do a good job," said Robert Galvan, Soto's brother-in-law. "We have all the confidence in the world in them."
Kathryn Romberg's brother said he wanted the "right person" to face justice. "They'll find the right person and when they do, may that person rot in hell,'' Michael Romberg said.

Story From: Chicago Sun-Times
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Girls beat witness in Ill. cop murder

Teens arrested as charges dropped against suspect in cop-killing case

By Annie Sweeney, Frank Main and Rummana Hussain
The Chicago Sun-Times

CHICAGO - Two teenage girls have been charged with beating a female witness in the murder case of a Chicago Police officer and a social worker, authorities said Thursday.
Tashianda Howland, 18, and a 16-year-old relative attacked a witness to events following the Aug. 13 shootings of Officer Robert Soto, 49, and Kathryn Romberg, 45, authorities said.
Howland and her relative were arrested Wednesday, just hours after prosecutors dropped charges against 26-year-old Jason Austin, who was the sole suspect in the murders. One of the teenage suspects was dating Austin, law enforcement sources said.
The witness was beaten at least twice on the West Side, and police said they are now keeping a close watch on her, sources said.
On Aug. 19, the 16-year-old suspect hit the witness in the face with a lock attached to a string, police said. The victim suffered a swollen lip and eye during the attack in the 600 block of North Troy, authorities said. The 16-year-old girl also made threats on the victim's life, police said.
Last Saturday, Howland beat the victim with her fists, sources said.
Then on Wednesday, the 16-year-old allegedly threatened the witness with a canister of pepper spray. Police said they recovered box cutters, scissors, a knife and a can of Mace from the 16-year-old.
On Thursday, the 16-year-old was ordered held by Juvenile Court Judge Carol Kelly on felony charges of aggravated battery and intimidation.
Howland is charged with simple battery, a misdemeanor, sources said.
The 16-year-old - who is 5-foot-5 and 175 pounds - has a lengthy criminal record that includes arrests for aggravated assault to a firefighter, resisting and obstructing a correctional officer, aggravated domestic battery, criminal damage to property, aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and criminal trespass to vehicles, sources said.
Howland - who is 5-foot-5 and 195 pounds - did not appear to have a prior criminal record.
On Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed murder and armed robbery charges against Austin in Soto and Romberg's slayings, citing "challenges with witness statements."
Problems with the case against Austin - and prosecutors' decision to drop the charges - were first reported by the Sun-Times.
Sources told the newspaper witnesses began recanting their accounts, fearing retaliation. Austin's attorney David Wiener also pointed out that Austin's maroon Buick Regal - the vehicle allegedly used in the shooting - was in a repair shop a day before shooting and was still there several hours after the crime.
Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine and police Supt. Jody Weis stressed Wednesday that this week's court action does not preclude further charges.
Meanwhile, an anonymous donor has contacted the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation and is offering $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the Soto and Romberg murders. Anyone with information can contact Harrison Area detectives at (312) 746-8252.

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