A 46-year-old Clark County man was sentenced Tuesday in Clark County Superior Court to a decade in prison for choosing his friend as the target of a deadly, drug-fueled robbery.
Judge John Fairgreive handed down the sentence against Justin W. Schell on the charge of first-degree manslaughter. Schell originally faced a first-degree murder charge, but authorities say he cooperated with detectives and testified during his co-defendant’s trial, which granted him a plea bargain with a sentence below what is generally imposed.
He 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. Jonathan “Jon Jon” Oson, 38, was sentenced to 50 years in February. Prosecutors have said in court that Oson was the driving force behind the robbery-turned-homicide.
Toni and Jerry Romano, the victim’s parents, said they would not pretend to understand all the circumstances that led to their son’s death, particularly Schell’s part in it, but they said they forgave him. They urged Schell to better himself, just like Ariel Romano had been trying for several years, before slipping back into addiction.
“You owe my son your life, the one redeemed and set free. You owe that to my son; you owe that to your friend,” Jerry Romano 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 Ariel Romano dead inside his car, which had struck a large tree near Prairie High School.
Investigators initially thought Ariel 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.
Ariel Romano sold drugs, and based on phone records, he 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 Ariel Romano to be robbed by Oson and Flores, the prosecution said.
Schell testified that he met Oson and gave him a firearm, according to Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Kristine 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 Ariel Romano’s name and phone number to Oson, because he was the first contact in Schell’s phone.
It’s unknown what exactly happened in the parking lot. Ariel 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 Ariel Romano’s car, and Oson shot him, the affidavit says.
Jerry Romano questioned whether it still mattered that Schell chose his son as the target of the robbery. The father said numerous factors, including poor decisions by multiple people suffering from substance addictions, had aligned to cause the fatal outcome.
Defense attorney Ed Dunkerly said his client showed remorse from the onset of the case. Dunkerly also noted Schell’s criminal history involves primarily property crimes; his co-defendants have more violent records.
When given the chance to speak, Schell told the courtroom, via video from the Clark County Jail, that Ariel Romano was his friend, and the two met when they were both sober.
“Being a father and son, I’m very sorry for what happened. I hope my taking responsibility helps the family,” he said.