Family of slain cop eager to see suspect sentenced in drug case
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter March 23, 2014 2:17PM
Chicago Police Officer Robert Soto, center, poses with brothers-in-law Robert Galvan, left, and Lorenzo Garcia. Soto was killed in 2008.
Updated: April 25, 2014 6:10AM
The brother-in-law of a slain Chicago Police officer and his family plan to watch the West Side gangster suspected of his murder sentenced on unrelated drug charges next month: “I hope he rots.”
Robert Galvan, brother-in-law of slain Chicago Police Officer Robert Soto, said he learned of the developments in Jason “J-Rock” Austin’s drug case in a Chicago Sun-Times story Friday.
Austin is facing sentencing April 24 in a federal drug case — not a murder case — but the U.S. attorney’s office is seeking to boost his prison term based on evidence that he killed Soto and a female companion in 2008.
“We would like to be present when this man is sentenced,” Galvan said. “I hope he rots.”
Austin was charged with the killings in 2008, but the case collapsed and he was freed when key witnesses recanted. Authorities launched an investigation into Austin’s drug dealing after the murder charges were dropped.
In 2010, he was charged with running a drug corner at Kedzie and Ohio that sold up to $8,000 of heroin a day. He was convicted in 2012.
Two witnesses, meanwhile, have given federal authorities new statements implicating Austin in the killings. The U.S. attorney’s office is using those statements and other evidence, including Austin’s recorded calls from the Cook County Jail, to try to ratchet up his sentence.
Federal prosecutors recently filed a memo accusing Austin’s associates of a systematic effort to intimidate the witnesses in the murder case.
His associates beat one female witness with a lock and allegedly paid a repair shop owner $2,000 to change his story and testify that Austin’s car was parked at the shop at the time of the shootings, prosecutors said.
The murder scene was about three blocks from Austin’s drug corner at Kedzie and Ohio, officials say. Soto, a detective in the Bomb and Arson Section, was in his SUV with social worker Kathryn Romberg outside her home on the West Side when someone walked up and shot them in the head.
Soto, 49, gave the responding officers a description of the killers and said they fled in a maroon four-door car. He died less than two hours later. The 45-year-old Romberg died at the scene.
Federal prosecutors said Austin was driving a maroon Buick Regal when he parked next to the SUV, jumped out, demanded money and fired into the vehicle. Witnesses said he mistakenly thought the people in the SUV were a gang rival and his girlfriend.
He told one friend: “Man, I f----d up, I didn’t know it was a cop and a lady,” prosecutors said.
Galvan said he was surprised to learn the murders were considered a gang-related case of mistaken identity.
“We never knew why he was killed,” he said.
Romberg’s uncle, James Romberg, said he periodically speaks to the police, who assured him that Austin would be brought to justice. Her parents are “not out for blood, but they are glad the system is addressing the situation,” James Romberg said.
“It’s a tragic story,” he said. “They had just met. There was no ongoing relationship.”
He said Kathryn Romberg was “the epitome of a social worker. She believed in helping the downtrodden. I don’t think she had any fear living in that neighborhood.”
Galvan said remembers his brother-in-law’s booming laugh at the barbecues he held for his family.
Galvan recalled that Soto was among the Chicago officers who volunteered to travel to New York after Sept. 11, 2001, to help in the aftermath of the terror attacks.
Soto, a 23-year police veteran, was planning for his retirement from the department and possibly working as a corporate investigator. He bought property in New Mexico, Galvan said.
Soto was planning to celebrate his fourth wedding anniversary with his wife, Jennifer Soto, according to Galvan.
“She kept a vigil of him with candles and pictures for quite a while,” Galvan said. “It was very hard for her.”
Now Galvan wants justice.
“The family still cares what’s going on in this case,” he said. “They took a very good man.”