LOS ANGELES — A reputed gang member who beat a murder charge decades ago and went on to land a job as a police officer was convicted Thursday of the 30-year-old killing after DNA evidence put him at the crime scene. Pierre Romain, 53, was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of first-degree murder for a botched carjacking outside a Hollywood nightclub in June 1987.
Romain was trying to steal a customized 1984 Nissan 300 ZX that was identical to a friend’s car he had recently crashed, police said. He fatally shot Jade Clark behind the wheel of the car and was struck in the arm by a shot returned by the driver.
Romain was arrested shortly after the killing, but charges were dismissed because of lack of evidence. At the time, investigators didn’t have DNA science to connect him to the bloody bullet fired by Clark that struck the killer.
Det. Rick Jackson, who investigated the original case, was working in the cold case homicide unit when San Francisco police inquired about Romain in 2003 because he had applied for a job there. Romain was working at the time for the Department of Defence as a sergeant providing security at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo.
He was arrested when his DNA was detected on the slug recovered at the crime scene.
Romain testified at trial that he had nothing to do with the shooting, had never been to the nightclub and was not a member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips, though he said he later joined the gang in jail for self-preservation purposes, defence lawyer Winston McKesson said.
“We challenged every aspect of the DA’s case,” McKesson said. “From motive to DNA to pointing out who was the actual killer.”
The defence pinned the crime on Romain’s late brother, who died in 2011 and more closely matched the description of the shooter, McKesson said. They also disputed that a scar on Romain’s arm was from a bullet and an expert testified that his DNA could have come from a jacket of his often worn by his brother.
Romain, an Air Force veteran, had been a candidate for a job as a Los Angeles police officer at the time of the shooting, but was later disqualified.
About a decade later, he was hired by the federal government after undergoing background checks that revealed information about his arrest in the fatal shooting, but showed the charges had been thrown out.
When he was charged with the killing in 2003, a spokeswoman for the base told the Los Angeles Times that Air Force personnel had access to court files, but not the LAPD case file.
He was fired after his arrest, McKesson said.
Romain faces a sentence of 27 years to life in prison when sentenced Sept. 15.
McKesson said he’ll ask for a new trial and if that fails an appeal will be filed.
By Brian Melley