By Reggie Ellis

More than two years after Jewel Sutton was brutally raped and murdered in her home the man charged with those crimes plead guilty.

David John Romero, 37, of Exeter plead guilty to all charges at a Dec. 17 pre-trial hearing. Romero is the man accused of the 2001 rape and murder of the 92-year-old woman.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Turner said Romero plead guilty to all charges in exchange for life imprisonment without the possibility for parole. Officially, Romero will be sentenced at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 13 in Dept. 6.

Evidence of Romero's mental disability was presented by the defense and will probably be factored into sentencing in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 20, 2002 ruling that executing developmentally disabled individuals is cruel and unusual punishment.

A decision on Romero's competency has been up in the air since his preliminary hearing in 2001 when he wandered around the courtroom and didn't seem to understand what was going on. Defense attorney Arthur Hampar argued that his client was not competent to stand trial. During the next two years, three psychologists have argued back and forth about Romero's possible mental retardation.

Romero is accused of raping and killing Sutton in her home on Aug. 11, 2001. Romero, who was Sutton's gardener, was arrested by sheriff's deputies on Aug. 21, 2001 at his mother's home. The sheriff's department reported that an angry confrontation eight years earlier made Romero a suspect in the case.

Romero has a criminal record spanning across Tulare and Kern counties for more than 12 years. On July 18, 2001, just one month before Sutton's murder, Romero had been paroled for a no contest plea to false imprisonment. He was arrested in 1998 under suspicion of trying to rape a Delano woman. In 1995 he was convicted of petty theft and in 1992 he was convicted for commercial burglary.

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