Man to plead guilty in dog’s dragging death

Steven Romero, taken from the federal building in Grand Junction earlier this year.

Federal prosecutors have struck a plea agreement with a man accused of torturing and killing a stolen dog on Colorado National Monument.

Steven Clay Romero, 38, of Grand Junction, is expected to plead guilty to aggravated cruelty to animals, the lone count lodged against him by a federal grand jury earlier this year, according to court filings.

The terms of Romero’s agreement with prosecutors aren’t specified.

Edward Pluss, Romero’s federal public defender, filed notice of the plea agreement Thursday in U.S. District Court in Denver. Both sides in the case are expected to meet next week to schedule a plea hearing.

Without the benefit of a plea agreement, Romero faced a maximum of three years in federal prison for allegedly tying a stolen dog, a German shepherd mix named Buddy, to the back of his pickup in the predawn hours of Dec. 30, 2009, and dragging the animal to its death several miles up the west entrance of Colorado National Monument.

Romero’s sister, Melissa Lockhart, 32, still faces state charges for allegedly stealing a pair of dogs, including Buddy, from a pickup in downtown Delta on Dec. 29.

Lockhart allegedly told her brother to “get rid” of the dog after it had attacked a family cat, according to an arrest affidavit and testimony during one of Romero’s pretrial hearings.

Lockhart was indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations she misled law enforcement during the investigation of the dog’s death. She has pleaded not guilty and is free on bond.

As of Friday afternoon, Romero was in custody in the Mesa County Jail without bond. He is scheduled to appear in court Tuesday on charges related to a drug case last year in which Romero was arrested at a local hotel on suspicion of possession of methamphetamine and a firearm. Romero faces a maximum of 48 years in prison if convicted.

He pleaded not guilty Jan. 27 in connection with the dog’s death.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer has said she would pursue a stiff penalty in the case, which brought international attention to Grand Junction and had animal lovers packing the Wayne N. Aspinall federal building.

“This isn’t just the United States of America v. Romero,” Heldmyer told a judge in January. “This is the world v. Romero.”


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