A bench trial started Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court for one of three men accused in a fatal Brush Prairie shooting that the prosecution says resulted from a drug deal gone wrong.
Judge John Fairgrieve will decide whether Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, 38, is guilty of first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Oson opted not to be tried by a jury about two weeks ago.
Oson and two co-defendants, Raul Flores, 46, and Justin Schell, 45, were charged in connection with the June 9, 2018, slaying of Ariel Romano, 29.
Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster said during her opening statement that Oson was the driving force behind the robbery that turned deadly.
“Addiction and greed drove Jonathan Oson to try and rob Ariel Romano. Anger drove Mr. Oson and his accomplice to kill” the victim, Foerster told the judge.
Defense attorney David Kurtz chose not to give an opening statement.
Washington State Patrol troopers had responded about 1:40 a.m. to what was believed to be a fatal hit-and-run crash on state Highway 503 near Northeast 119th Street. They found Romano dead inside his car, which had struck a large tree near Prairie High School.
Investigators initially thought Romano died in the crash while street racing. However, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office found that Romano died of a shotgun wound to the left side of his head and ruled his death a homicide.
According to court documents, Romano was known to sell drugs and, based on phone records, had made plans to meet with Schell to sell to him. The men arranged to meet about 1:30 a.m. at a WinCo Foods on Northeast 119th Street.
Instead, Schell set up Romano to be robbed by Oson and Flores, court records say. Foerster said Oson forced Schell — a man he’d met through a work release program in another criminal case — at gunpoint to find him “someone, anyone to rob” on the night before the shooting.
Schell looked through his cellphone and picked Romano, whom he knew from an outpatient drug treatment program. Their relationship centered on drugs, Foerster said.
Once Oson had his target, he recruited Flores as the driver, the prosecutor said. The two men had only known each other for a few weeks. Flores had been working on Oson’s car, and they had used drugs together, Foerster said.
Phone records and surveillance footage from around the Vancouver area show the men planning their ambush before arriving at WinCo, Foerster said.
It’s unknown what exactly happened in the store’s parking lot. Video surveillance from WinCo showed a fight in the parking lot between Romano, Flores and Oson, court records say. Romano fled in his Toyota Corolla and was pursued by a Lincoln LS sedan, driven by Flores, with Oson as the passenger, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
The vehicles were southbound on Highway 503 when the Lincoln pulled up along the driver’s side of Romano’s car, and Oson shot him. Romano lost control of his vehicle, left the road and crashed. The Lincoln sped away, the affidavit said.
Once troopers were aware that a homicide had occurred, an investigator tied the three defendants to the killing using phone records. Oson had been using multiple phones, but Facebook messages showed all of the numbers he was using, Foerster said. Additionally, cellphone tower location data puts Oson near the scene minutes after the slaying, she said.
The prosecution noted Oson also told a cell mate while at the Clark County Jail that “they got me on assault, but they’re going to get me on murder.” Oson allegedly told the same man where the murder weapon, a chrome shotgun, was located, and law enforcement used that information to find the gun, Foerster said.
An analysis of the shotgun found Oson’s DNA on the trigger and pump, according to the prosecution.
“It’s important to look at the big picture. Each piece of evidence doesn’t provide a clear picture, but when put together, the picture is absolutely clear. … It is clear that Mr. Oson is responsible for the death,” Foerster said.
Oson’s trial continues today.
Flores pleaded guilty in October to second-degree conspiracy to commit murder. His sentencing is set for Feb. 11. Schell is set to go to trial April 20.