Wednesday, December 20, 2000

Tracy Huffman
Staff Reporter

3 officers cleared in Romagnuolo death

WALKING BACK TO FREEDOM: Left to right, York Constable Mike Hoskin, York Constable Randy Martin and Durham Constable Al Robbins.
WALKING BACK TO FREEDOM: Left to right, York Constable Mike Hoskin, York Constable Randy Martin and Durham Constable Al Robbins.

Jurors reach verdicts after 13 hours of deliberations

The police officer who shot and killed Tony Romagnuolo two years ago left a Whitby courthouse yesterday afternoon relieved that a jury believed his actions were justified.

York Region Constables Randy Martin and Mike Hoskin, and Durham Constable Al Robins were acquitted on a variety of charges just after 4 p.m. in a packed courtroom filled with family and friends of the officers and victims.

The verdicts came after jurors spent about 13 hours over two days reviewing evidence presented at the Superior Court of Justice trial.

The officers were charged following the Dec. 28, 1998 shooting death of Romagnuolo, a 44-year-old carpenter, and the wounding of his then 17-year-old son Rocco.

Martin, 38, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tony Romagnuolo, smiled at the jurors as the foreperson delivered a not-guilty verdict — prompting a woman in the gallery to yelp with relief.

The reaction came just moments after Mr. Justice Archie Campbell made a request: Before the jurors came in to deliver the verdicts, Campbell said the jury deserves respect and should not be faced with the emotion of those in the courtroom.

"They do not need the added burden of emotional display, either positive or negative," he said.

Hoskin, 41, showed little reaction but glanced at his lawyer, Scott Fenton, as the jury found him not guilty on the two charges he faced: careless use of a firearm and assault with a weapon.

It was Robins who was the most emotional, squeezing his eyes shut and dropping his head with a sigh as the foreperson announced he was not guilty of aggravated assault and discharging a firearm with intent to wound.

He looked to the ground for a few seconds before raising his head to wipe a tear from his right cheek.

While the officers felt some relief, the family of Tony Romagnuolo sat in the two front rows of Courtroom 3 and obeyed Campbell's request not to express emotion.

Linda Romagnuolo, Tony's widow, dropped her head, her blond, shoulder-length hair covering the sides of her face. Her three sons — Enzo, 22, Rocco, 19, and Michael, 17 — sat quietly while Tony's mother looked at the jurors.

Linda and her sons quickly left the courtroom. The officers thanked their lawyers — Hoskin even hugged Fenton — and were congratulated by a couple of the police officers who have provided security throughout the trial.

The officers were then escorted out a back door of the courtroom and down a private staircase.

Earlier in the day, jurors requested to have in the jury room one of two Beretta handguns entered as evidence during the trial. They stated in a note to the court they would like to have one of the guns — Martin's or Hoskin's — but it did not matter which one.

Court heard throughout the six-week trial that Hoskin had pulled over Rocco on suspicion of impaired driving at about 3 a.m. on Dec. 20, 1998. Hoskin took Rocco to a police station and while there called the Romagnuolo residence. Lorenzo, then 20, answered the phone.

During the course of the conversation, Lorenzo admitted he told the officer he would "break your f------ legs" if the officer didn't tell him what had happened to his brother.

Eight days later, Hoskin decided to go to the Romagnuolos' Sunderland home to talk to — and possibly arrest — Lorenzo for the alleged threat. Martin joined him, as did escort officers (required when an officer is outside his jurisdiction) Robins and Constable Nancy George from Durham Region.

A doorstep conversation turned violent when Enzo refused to go with the officers. Tony was shot dead by Martin. Rocco was shot by Robins when he ran toward Martin and his father, court was told.

Outside the courthouse yesterday, lawyers for the three officers spoke to the media.

"We're relieved. We're obviously relieved. We had every confidence that Randy Martin would be acquitted," said David Humphrey, who represented the officer at the trial.

"He testified that he was being choked and there was a struggle over his gun and all of that was confirmed, even though reluctantly, by Romagnuolo family members."

Martin will take some time to think about his policing career, Humphrey said, adding the officer had no choice but to use his gun that night.

During the trial, Martin testified he was being choked by Tony and feared for his life. He told jurors he worried he wouldn't live to see his wife, a Toronto police officer, and two young boys again.

Martin — who has been on sick leave since the incident — also testified he has struggled with depression and has flashbacks and nightmares of the shooting. Fenton said Hoskin is "just so relieved it's over."

"From the beginning I've always had confidence a jury would acquit Michael," Fenton said.

"He was a victim of a vicious assault on the night of the incident at the Romagnuolo household. He survived that. He survived an attempt to strip his handgun off his duty belt and he got charged for it."

Robins' lawyer, Harry Black, expressed appreciation to the jury on behalf of his client outside the courthouse.

"He states that the burden of having been a police officer accused of having committed a serious crime has been an almost crushing burden for the past two years," an emotional Black said.

The case signifies "the awesome decisions that police officers must sometimes make, decisions they hope they never have to make," Black said. "Yet it is true to say that the most terrifying ones are so often the ones in which they have absolutely the least amount of time to make the decision."

When asked why he was so emotional after the verdict, Black — who has made a successful career out of defending police officers charged with criminal and police act charges — stumbled over his words.

"It's a very serious case. … Al Robins is a lovely man and I saw perhaps so often, because it lasted so long, the effect it had on him," Black explained.

"And the consequences of a guilty verdict would have been a disaster. It would have been a disaster for him, for his family, for the Durham Regional Police. And it would have been very bad for … public confidence in policing."

The three constables did not speak to reporters. They all flashed a half-smile as they left. Martin said "thank you" before getting into the back seat of a van driven by a security officer.

The Romagnuolos — who have chatted casually with reporters throughout the trial and deliberations — said nothing to the media as they left the courthouse.

Enzo politely told a Star reporter he didn't want to comment, then got into a car with his two brothers. Linda rushed from the back door to another car with other family members, refusing to talk to media.

After the Romagnuolos left, special investigations unit investigator Rob Taylor said the family was not "happy with the verdict and that's all I can tell you."

The SIU conducted an investigation and presented the facts to the court, he said.

"The evidence was there and the jury made a decision," Taylor said. "That's our judicial system."

Crown Attorneys John Corelli and Ian Bulmer declined to comment.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: December 20, 2000
Last modified: December 20, 2000
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