Fruita woman charged with stealing animal that was tortured, killed

A local woman is accused in the theft of a dog that was later tortured and killed on Colorado National Monument.

Melissa Lockhart, 32, of Fruita, surrendered Saturday at Mesa County Jail on an arrest warrant issued in Delta on charges of felony theft and false reporting to authorities. Booking records indicate she walked out of jail the same day after posting a $5,000 bond.

Delta police confirmed Lockhart had been wanted on suspicion of the theft of two dogs Dec. 29 from a parked vehicle in downtown Delta. One of the dogs was Buddy, the German shepherd mix that was killed in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 30 along Rim Rock Drive in Colorado National Monument.

Delta Police Sgt. Brad Lamb said Lockhart is the sister of Steven Clay Romero, 37, the man suspected of tying a rope to Buddy’s neck, dragging the dog and eventually killing it.

The stolen dogs were owned by Joseph and Sasha Leber of Delta.

Lamb said Lockhart, who was accused of taking the dogs from the bed of the Leber family’s pickup, later provided several accounts to investigators as to why.

“She indicated three different stories to me, none of which were feasible,” Lamb said. “Basically, they were different versions of she felt the dogs were abandoned.”

“(Lockhart’s) kids started playing with the dogs, she put them in her car and left,” Lamb said.

A witness to the incident recorded the car’s license plate, which was traced to Lockhart’s home in Fruita, according to Lamb.

Lamb declined comment when asked how Buddy came into Romero’s possession, citing an ongoing investigation. The second stolen dog was recovered from a home in Grand Junction and has since been returned to the Lebers.

Lamb said nothing suggests Lockhart knew the Lebers.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Monday said Romero will get a court-appointed attorney. The appointment, which was made by U.S. Magistrate Judge Laird Milburn, came after Romero said his attorney “couldn’t make it” to Monday’s hearing and hadn’t returned his phone calls. Romero told the judge he’s had “problems” since he’s been at the Mesa County Jail, but didn’t elaborate.

“Pretty much everybody thinks I’ve done it,” Romero told the judge.

Romero has been held without bond at Mesa County Jail since his arrest on Thursday.

He is scheduled to return before Milburn on Thursday afternoon.


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