Edward Romero murder trial opens with grisly details of 16-year-old Alicia Martinez's dismemberment

Defense says Romero is insane

DENVER - Opening statements in Edward Romero's murder trial Wednesday began with a prosecutor revealing grisly details about how the Denver man allegedly shot and killed 16-year-old Alicia Martinez after a house party in 2010 and then -- with the help of his girlfriend -- dismembered the body in an effort to flush it down the toilet.

Prosecutors say that Romero suffers from mental illness, but he knew right from wrong when he killed Martinez and tried to cover it up.

But the defense says Romero suffers from a multiple-personality disorder, blacked out during the killing and should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

-- EDITORS NOTE: This story contains some gruesome descriptions of the alleged crime --

Denver District Judge William Robbins cautioned people in the court room before the trial began.

“I understand this is a very emotional situation," Robbins said. "I don't tolerate drama in my courtroom. You will all need to behave, … suppress your emotions or you will have to leave."

Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Henry Cooper began his opening statement by showing jurors a photograph of Alicia Martinez on a large monitor.

He described Martinez as a high school student who liked to hang out with friends, text boys and was "especially fond of Hello Kitty."

Then the prosecutor shifted to what Romero allegedly did to the girl who came with a neighbor to a party on the night of Oct. 22, 2010, at Romero's grandmother's Denver home, where he lived in the basement.

After the party, Cooper said Romero "intentionally shot" the girl twice in the head with a semiautomatic handgun  and later  "cut, dismembered, de-skinned and mutilated the body  to where she was barely distinguishable as a human being."

As the prosecutor spoke, Romero sat at the defense table in a gray jail uniform, appearing engaged in the trial.

The party was held in the grandmother's garage, which Cooper described as a "man cave," outfitted with a stereo and TV, some couches and a "stripper pole."

Over about three hours, people at the party drank, smoked marijuana and socialized. Cooper said Martinez didn't drink alcohol, but she did smoke some pot.

Cooper said Romero was attracted to Martinez from the moment she arrived at the party with her friend, Jackie Perea. Romero pulled aside a friend, Manuel Gonzales, and asked him to get Perea to go outside so he could "hit on Alicia," Cooper said.

Gonzales persuaded Perea to go outside. But Perea eventually left the gathering, which was winding down. This left Romero in the garage alone with Martinez.

-- DA: Romero tells friend 'I Had To Kill Her' --

When Gonzales when back inside, Romero told his friend, "I did something bad. Things got out of hand and I had to kill her. I shot her," Cooper told jurors.

Gonzales told Romero to drive him back to his Westminster home. Romero left the girl's body in the garage.

"Don't tell anybody," Romero told Gonzales when he dropped him off, Cooper recalled.

Later, Romero's girlfriend, Francesca Pagliasotti, arrived at Romero's home. Cooper recounted a conversation between the two during his opening statement.

"I just killed a girl in the garage," Romero told Pagliasotti, showing her the body.

"We’ve got to do something," Romero said.

He began to dismember the body, cutting off the arms and legs as Pagliasotti watched, Cooper said. He stuffed the body parts in plastic garbage bags.

Romero and Pagliasotti then went to bed. They got up the next morning and cleaned the garage -- "cleaner than it's ever been" --  including pulling up floor tiles and mopping the floor with bleach, Cooper said.

Perea came back to Romero's home and asked him, "Where’s Alicia?"

Romero vaguely said she walked away from the party. The Martinez family filed a missing person report with police.

Meanwhile, Romero and Pagliasotti put the girl's remains into a blue plastic tub and took it into the house.

The night after the murder, Romero systematically cut the body into smaller and smaller parts -- even using a blender.

-- DA: Romero Tries To Flush Body Parts Down Toilet --

"It’s his plan to flush Alicia down the toilet piece by piece," Cooper said.

The girlfriend helped, the DA told the jury. Afterward, the couple got into the shower together to wash off the blood.

In a separate trial last year, Pagliasotti was found guilty of being an accessory to murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Cooper says a man named Francisco Aguirre somehow learned of the killing and "gets a conscience" and calls anonymously to tell police there’s a dead girl in Romero's garage.

Police came to the home, but Romero denied any wrongdoing. He again said that Martinez had the left the party on foot.

Police continued to receive tips that the missing teen's body was hidden in Romero's home.

But when officers returned to question Romero, he grew indignant, saying: "What have I done?" Cooper recounted.

Two days after the killing, Romero talked with Alicia's family and offered to help them look for her.

-- Romero Offers To Help Girl's Family Find Her --

Romero rode with the girl's family to the police department and talked with investigators about what he knew -- without admitting any role in her disappearance, Cooper said.

Soon police returned to Romero's home with a search warrant and found the girl's remains in the blue plastic tub in the basement, Cooper said.

Romero "never comes clean" about how the girl died, the prosecutor told jurors.

After Romero's arrest, he eventually pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

While Romero had been previously diagnosed with several mental illnesses -- including mood, bipolar and anti-social disorders -- Cooper said two medical experts have found him to be sane.

-- Defense: Romero Has Multiple Personality Disorder --

However, during the defense team's opening statement, public defender Arnold Beckman told jurors a defense psychologist determined that Romero also has Dissociative Identity Disorder resulting from abuse he suffered as a child.

Beckman said the disorder causes people to develop an "unconscious survival mechanism," involving multiple personalities. People with the condition live in secrecy and fear losing control, he said.

Beckman said for several years Romero has experienced repeated blackout "episodes," where he comes to without knowing what has just happened.  

-- Defense attorney: Romero Blacked Out During Killing --

On the night of the killing, Beckman said Romero blacked out and "emerged back into consciousness" to find himself alone and saw Alicia Martinez's lifeless body on a couch in the garage.

Beckman said Romero didn't know how she had died because the disorder caused him to have a lapse in memory -- or "a skip in the tape of his conscious mind."

As Romero always did when he blacked out, he tried to piece together what had just happened, Beckman said.

Romero decided he must have been the one who killed Alicia, but he had no clue why, the defense attorney said.

Romero decided he had to conceal the killing, Beckman said.

"So began, the gruesome, grisly, post-mortem dismemberment of Alicia Martinez," Beckman said.

The defense attorney called the dismemberment an "unconscionable cover-up," but Beckman said as shocking as it is, jurors "have to set that aside."

"You can’t decide this on emotion. You have to look at facts," Beckman said, telling jurors the mental health evidence will show Romero wasn't conscious when the girl was killed and had no "ability to know right from wrong."

Beckman said Romero suffers from a mental disease or mental defect and asked jurors to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.

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