Thursday, March 22 , 2018, 9:00 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 57º


Local News


Trial Begins For Men Accused of Raping Homeless Woman at Knifepoint on Santa Barbara Beach

Emergency room doctor, police officers testify in court for case of two cousins facing charges of rape in July 2014 assault

Juan Carlos Herrera Romero leaves court on Thursday, where he and his cousin Gabino Andres Grande Romero are being tried for allegedly raping a 62-year-old woman at knifepoint on East Beach last year.
Juan Carlos Herrera Romero leaves court on Thursday, where he and his cousin Gabino Andres Grande Romero are being tried for allegedly raping a 62-year-old woman at knifepoint on East Beach last year. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

An emergency room doctor and several Santa Barbara police officers were called to testify Thursday as two cousins began trial for allegedly raping a homeless woman at knife point on East Beach last year.

Juan Carlos Herrera Romero, 30, was arrested on charges of rape in concert with another by force or violence and oral copulation in concert with another, while Gabino Andres Grande Romero, 26, was arrested on charges of rape in concert with another by force or violence.

The arrests took place on July 16, 2014, after police said the men had been charged with assaulting a 62-year-old homeless woman on East Beach adjacent to 600 E. Cabrillo Blvd. during the early morning hours that day.

At the time of the crimes, police said the Romeros spent the evening of July 15 fishing on Stearns Wharf, where they consumed beers, discussed finding a homeless woman to sexually assault and then used knives to subdue the woman and her partner while the assaults took place.

Their trial began on Monday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court before Judge Rick Brown, with defense attorney K.C. Williamson representing Juan Romero and Steven Powell representing Gabino Romero. 

Prosecutor Mary Barron is representing the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in the case.

Gabino Andres Grande Romero hides his face as he leaves court escorted by a bailiff Thursday. Click to view larger
Gabino Andres Grande Romero hides his face as he leaves court escorted by a bailiff Thursday. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Two juries are sitting on the case currently, and the jury box was full on Thursday as well as a good portion of the courtroom seats, where a second jury sat. Each defendant in the case has a separate jury considering the facts of their individual cases.

Thursday’s testimony included that of Santa Barbara Police Department Sgt. Charlie Katsapis, who was working as a major crimes detective at the time of the alleged assault and recalled chilling testimony of a man who witnessed the scene.

Several hours after the incident occurred on July 16, Katsapis was called in to interview the male partner of the female victim.

Both had been sleeping on the beach, adjacent to the bike path, when the man was awoken by his partner telling someone to go away because they were sleeping.

The man described seeing a taller suspect jump on top of him and pin him into the sand, Katsapis said.

Both suspects, described as a tall man and a shorter man, brandished knives and took turns raping the female victim in a small pit of sand near the ice plant on the beach, the sergeant recalled of the man’s testimony.

Though the man screamed for help, his face was pushed into the sand, and he reported the shorter of the subjects telling him “Go to sleep or I’ll cut you.”

The assaults on the woman took place over about an hour’s time, the man told detectives.

After the assault ended, the woman ran down the beach naked and ran into the lobby of the Fess Parker Doubletree Hotel to call for help, the man said.

After looking for her for a short time, the man, who is disabled, eventually sat down on the beach, where police found him later, Katsapis said.

Powell and Williamson each questioned Katsapis about the male victim’s testimony, with Powell pointing to the interview transcript where the man admitted his recollection of the events was fuzzy.

There was some confusion about the beginning of the incident, when one of the assailants held the woman down on top of her partner before she was raped in the sand pit, but Katsapis said the man had been sure that both men had taken turns assaulting the woman.

Williamson asked how much the man could have seen had he been awake, due to lack of lighting in the area.

“I really didn’t see that much,” Williamson read from a transcript of the man’s interview.

Also called to the stand Thursday was Dr. Angelo Salvucci, an emergency physician at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, who was working when the female victim arrived.

Salvucci said she arrived at 5:26 a.m. that morning, with a swollen right cheek, likely caused by blunt force trauma, and abrasions to her back, chest and the tops of both of her feet.

Salvucci said that her injuries were consistent with what she had told the doctor, “in that she was raped on the beach just as she said. I specifically recall exiting the room and speaking with the police officer and saying just that.”

The Sexual Assault Response Team was called in to evaluate the victim and gather evidence from the sexual assault.

Other officers who responded to the scene were also brought to the stand, including one who searched Gabino Romero’s car after he was arrested after a traffic stop on Las Positas Road near Adams Elementary School.

Juan Romero had been located earlier in the day working at a Montecito construction site and arrested.

SBPD Officer Bruno Peterson was one of the investigators and photographed the contents of Gabino Romero’s car, including multiple fishing poles and fishing equipment, an unopened 32-ounce can of Miller Lite, and an eight-inch folding knife in the car’s side door.

Barron asked Peterson to remove the knife from the evidence box and show the knife to each of the juries, which the officer did.

The trial will resume Friday morning.

Noozhawk staff writer lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >