A Clark County Superior Court judge on Friday found a Portland man guilty of fatally shooting a man during a botched robbery in June 2018.
Judge John Fairgrieve convicted Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, 38, of first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, following a bench trial that lasted a week and a half.
Fairgrieve said there was a broad range of evidence to consider from the trial, but the testimony of three people involved in the events before and after the victim’s death consistently pointed to Oson’s guilt, and he did not find the defense’s alibi witness credible.
Sitting motionless and looking forward through the hearing, Oson did not react as the judge handed down his decision.
Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 27.
Oson and two co-defendants, Raul Flores, 46, and Justin Schell, 45, were charged in connection with the slaying of 29-year-old Ariel Romano. 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.
Washington State Patrol troopers responded about 1:40 a.m. on June 9 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 while street racing. However, the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office found that he died of a shotgun wound to the left side of his head, and ruled his death a homicide.
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. in the parking lot of WinCo Foods on Northeast 119th Street, according to court records.
Instead, Schell set up Romano to be robbed by Oson and Flores, the prosecution said.
Early in Oson’s trial, Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster said he was the driving force behind the robbery-turned-homicide.
Foerster said this is a “big picture case” that becomes clear when all of the pieces are put together. At the beginning of the investigation, there were a lot of unanswered questions about what happened, she said, but Oson “left digital bread crumbs.”
And Oson’s co-defendants came clean about his “dark plans,” she said.
Schell testified that he met Oson on June 8 and gave him the firearm, according to Foerster. They met at the Econo Lodge in Portland, where Oson lived. Facebook messages corroborated this meeting. Oson talked about finding a “mark” for a “lick,” which is slang for coming up with easy money. Schell gave Romano’s name and phone number to Oson, because he was the first contact in Schell’s phone. Oson contacted Romano who subsequently blocked him, the prosecutor said.
Fairgrieve noted that he would have had serious issues with Schell’s reliability as a witness if his testimony had not so strongly supported other evidence presented in the case.
Schell set up the meeting with Romano and updated Oson on their plans. Raul Flores’ Lincoln sedan is seen on surveillance footage showing up at Fred Meyer, where Romano and Schell first planned to meet. When they moved the meeting to WinCo, Schell told Oson where Romano’s vehicle would be in the parking lot, according to the prosecution.
Surveillance footage from various businesses show two vehicles speeding and running a red light. Surveillance footage at the high school captured a car speeding by and another crashing into a tree, the prosecution said.
Oson also bragged to a cell mate about the weapon and killing someone, and he showed no remorse, Foerster said. His DNA was found on the weapon, and investigators found evidence of it being in his possession and him trying to sell it while in jail.
During Wednesday’s closing arguments, defense attorney David Kurtz said his client never took a substantial step toward robbing Romano, so he shouldn’t be facing felony murder. Oson maintains his innocence and claims he was at a party that night.
“We have absolutely zero evidence of what happened in that parking lot,” Kurtz said. Surveillance footage at the WinCo only captured headlights. He added that the only evidence of what happened is a statement that Flores was injured during the meetup and went after Romano’s vehicle.
Any substantial step toward carrying out a robbery was abandoned, Kurtz argued, when Flores was struck by Romano’s vehicle, and the chase ensued. He further argued that nothing was taken from Romano.
Fairgrieve said that abandonment of an attempted crime is not a valid defense.
“(Oson) took substantial steps to carry out the robbery,” the judge said.
Ariel Romano’s father, Jerry Romano, said he was thrilled with the judge’s decision, which delivered justice and provided mercy to his son’s family.
“We’re not too surprised. We had worried about things like technicalities, but the prosecution did a great job. We’re also happy that this very bad person is no longer a threat to the community,” Jerry Romano said.
The father said his son was doing well with his addiction — Ariel Romano had been living with his parents for 3 1/2 years and was overcoming his struggles with drugs. But Ariel slipped up, and during that short window of time, he died, Jerry Romano said.
“Hurt people hurt people,” the father said of the cycle of drug addiction. “We don’t want to let (Oson) own us. Hopefully, he finds redemption.”