Before a judge handed down a 50-year prison sentence against Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, the father of the man Oson killed recounted his son’s troubled life, concluding his untimely death was the result of cowardice.
“(The family) concluded that this was done by someone in fear. A running, scared coward,” said Jerry Romano, the father of 29-year-old Ariel Romano. “I hope one day, Jon Jon Oson, you find peace. We want you to have a shot at that freedom (offered through) love and forgiveness.”
Clark County Superior Court Judge John Fairgrieve sentenced Oson on first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm; the firearm conviction will run concurrently with the murder conviction and has no bearing on the decades-long sentence recommended by prosecutors.
Defense attorney David Kurtz asked the judge to impose a sentence of nearly 42 years, arguing that either length of time amounted to life imprisonment for his client and would deliver justice.
Oson was one of three men charged in connection with the slaying of Ariel Romano during a botched robbery in June 2018. Raul Flores, 46, pleaded guilty to second-degree conspiracy to commit murder in October. He was sentenced to a decade in prison. Justin Schell, 45, is set to go to trial April 20.
Deputy Prosecutor Kristine Foerster said Oson was the driving force behind the robbery-turned-homicide.
“He never abandoned his plan. He’s the one who fired the gun. … He is certainly the most culpable,” Foerster said.
Washington State Patrol troopers responded about 1:40 a.m. June 9, 2018, 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 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, according to court records. The men arranged to meet about 1:30 a.m. in the parking lot of WinCo Foods on Northeast 119th Street.
Instead, Schell set up Romano to be robbed by Oson and Flores, the prosecution said.
Schell testified that he met Oson and gave him the firearm, according to Foerster. They met at the Econo Lodge in Portland, where Oson lived. Facebook messages corroborated their 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.
Schell set up the meeting with Romano and updated Oson on their plans. 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.
Several of Romano’s family members spoke at the sentencing hearing. Each of them recalled a boy and man intrigued by danger but loving and empathetic in his actions toward family and friends.
Derek Romano said his brother would show up intermittently throughout his life, wavering between unhealthy habits and moments of stability. Ariel Romano struggled to overcome his addiction to opiates, he said, but the stretches of sobriety and transparency are cherished.
“There is peace in knowing that he does not have to struggle like he did here on Earth,” Derek Romano told the judge.
Experimentation with drugs and a high school football injury during his senior year led to an Oxycontin prescription, addiction and then jail time for Ariel Romano, said Toni Romano, his mother. There was a three-year period of sobriety and recovery; but several months before he died, he’d been laid off from his construction job and started going out at night, which left the family wondering if he was using drugs again.
Jerry Romano said the family had no idea of the implications when doctors prescribed his son Oxycontin, which at that time was still being hailed as a breakthrough, long-lasting narcotic that could help patients suffering from pain.
Ariel Romano eventually moved on to heroin and disappeared from his family members’ lives. Five years later, he re-entered them with a pregnant girlfriend and “broken neurotransmitters,” his father said.
“We watched him fight, and I was sure he was winning,” Jerry Romano said. “We left for three weeks, and he had a nightlife. Three months later, he was dead.”