Crime & Courts

Records: Suspect in alleged Lexington drug robbery where child died was out on bond

Reynerio Rafael Romero Jr. spent March 11 in jail.

He bonded out two days later and was free until May 18, when Lexington deputies arrested him. Sometime between Romero’s jail stints, police allege that he conspired to set up a fatal drug robbery.

Romero has a history with narcotics, records show.

Saturday, Lexington County Sheriff’s Department charged Romero, 24, in connection with a May 14 break-in on the 100 block of Cedar Vale Drive near the Oak Grove community. A gunman kicked in a back door looking to steal pounds of marijuana, spurring a gunfight between the burglar and homeowner that ended with the owner’s 8-year-old child shot in the head, according to warrants. The child later died at the hospital. While Romero was not at the home when bullets flew, police said he was in on the job. A co-defendant, Linda Lyn Monette, was in the house next to the child on a couch, warrants say. The sheriff’s department is still searching for the gunman.

Deputies charged Romero with conspiracy and accessory before the fact to murder, which could land him in prison for life. Monette was hit with a host of charges including murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, drug possession, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

Romero has a history in small-time dealing and possession going back to 2013, a background check shows, including charges that landed him in a South Carolina prison.

In December 2013, Richland County Sheriff’s Department charged Romero with simple possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor, for which he was convicted. The charges ratcheted up in the following years.

Columbia Police Department charged Romero with a felony charge of selling marijuana in July 2015, court records show. The next month Lexington deputies found Romero holding marijuana and a judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

In October 2015, Lexington deputies charged Romero with selling crack, a felony, and a misdemeanor of possession Schedule IV drugs, which are prescription medications like Xanax that are sometimes illicitly sold and used, a background check shows. By February 2016, he was back in a Lexington County jail for selling drugs. While awaiting court proceedings on those charges, deputies charged him for selling cocaine and a misdemeanor possession charge.

Romero pleaded guilty to two counts of selling crack as well as possession marijuana and other drugs, the records show.

In April 2017, Judge Jocelyn Newman sentenced Romero to three years in prison under the Youthful Offenders Act, according to court records.

The Youthful Offender Act allows people between 17 and 24 years old convicted of nonviolent crimes to have more lenient sentences.

Romero spent time in three different state prisons. In June 2017, he was involved in a prison riot at Trenton Correctional Institution and pleaded guilty to his part in the incident, according to Chrysti Shain, a Department of Corrections spokesperson.

The Youthful Offender Act allowed the Department of Corrections to release Romero after 10 months. Under the condition of his release, he remained under intense supervision by a parole officer between February 2018 and February 2019. During his supervision, he met all of the criteria and had no violations, Shain said.

The month after his supervision ended, the South Carolina Highway Patrol picked him up for drug possession with intent to sell, according to court records. Richland County bond judge Roger Myers let Romero out of jail on a $3,000 surety bond, the records show.

Romero is currently being held in Lexington County Detention Center for his alleged part in the deadly attempt to steal marijuana. Jail records indicate that no bond was set for Romero on the latest charges.

He could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted on the charge of accessory before the fact of murder. Conspiracy to commit a crime carries up to five years in prison.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.