Friends dispute abuse suspicions in Ariz. slaying

ST. JOHNS, AZ [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

They painted a picture of Vincent Romero as a caring father who seemed to be doing all he could to raise a polite and respectful boy.

"They were always together doing things as a family, fishing, hunting," Carlos Diaz, a cousin of Romero's current wife, said after the funeral Mass at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

About 600 people filled the rural Arizona church in this town of about 4,000. People who could not get in crowded around an open door or sat on chairs set up outside. Romero, an avid hunter, was in a casket with a camouflage lid.

Romero, a 29-year-old employee of a construction company, was shot with a .22-caliber rifle last Wednesday along with Timothy Romans, a 39-year-old man who rented a room in his house.

Police said Romero's son planned and methodically carried out the killings, and confessed. Authorities would not discuss specifics of the confession. The boy has been charged as a juvenile with two counts of murder.

The boy appeared in handcuffs at a court hearing Monday and sat restlessly next to his mother. Some people in the audience cried as he entered. His mother declined to comment as she left the courthouse.

Judge Michael Roca gave defense attorneys until Friday to either find an expert to evaluate the boy's competency or to agree to one suggested by the prosecutors.

Police Chief Roy Melnick said over the weekend that police were looking into whether the boy might have been abused. He would not say who might be under scrutiny. The police department said in a statement Monday that a court had issued an order prohibiting the release of any further information about the case.

Prosecutors said that there was no record of any complaints filed about the boy with Arizona Child Protective Services and that the youngster had no disciplinary record at school.

Romero had full custody of the child. The boy's mother lives in Mississippi, according to officials. Police said the boy's stepmother was not home at the time of the shooting.

The boy's attorney complained that police questioned the third-grader without representation from a parent or attorney and did not advise him of his rights.

Relatives and friends of Romero's in the town 170 miles northeast of Phoenix said they saw no signs of abuse by the father.

Carl Hamblin, a neighbor who had once coached the father in Little League, said he often saw Romero and his son at football games or out in the yard, playing baseball.

"He appeared to be doing the right things as a dad," Hamblin said.

Neighbors Flynt and Amber Smith described the father and son as "two peas in a pod."

"They were good people, and I'd have to say good parents, and made sure (the boy) was respectful to people," Amber Smith said.

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