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Drug dealer’s testimony: ‘It was kill or be killed’

JasAustduring an interview his lawyer's office September 2008. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times library

Jason Austin during an interview in his lawyer's office in September of 2008. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times library

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Updated: September 23, 2014 6:26AM

Drug dealer Jason “J. Rock” Austin was at war with rival Mark “Quick” Thomas and both men knew they had to “kill or be killed,” a federal judge was told Thursday.

But when Austin mistook off-duty Chicago cop Robert Soto and his friend Kathryn Romberg for Thomas and his girlfriend on the West Side in August 2008, the wrong people paid the price, Austin’s former pal testified.

“It was like the ‘Wild, Wild West,” convicted drug dealer Jeffery Scott said as he spelled out in vivid detail the internal gang feud that allegedly led to Soto and Romberg’s high profile murders.

Scott’s dramatic testimony came on the second day of Austin’s sentencing hearing for a series of drug convictions.

Though a state double murder case against Austin collapsed in 2008 when several key witnesses against him suddenly recanted, claiming they’d been beaten and coerced by police, prosecutors hope U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow will hold Austin responsible for Soto and Romberg’s deaths when she sentences Austin on the drug charges.

Jeffrey Scott was one of several witnesses who testified Thursday that Austin gunned down both victims, then intimidated witnesses so that he could beat the case.

Thomas had recently shot out the rear window of Austin’s car in a drug turf dispute, and Austin knew “it was survival of the fittest,” so he fired into a parked SUV on the 3000 block of West Franklin believing he was killing Thomas and Thomas’s girlfriend, Scott said.

“I effed up — I didn’t know it was a cop and a lady,” Scott said Austin told him after Soto’s murder led the next morning’s news.

Scott added that his younger brother, Terrance, “looked like he’d seen a ghost” when he revealed he’d seen Austin commit the murders.

Terrance and Jeffrey Scott both recanted statements they gave to police incriminating Austin after Austin’s brother Charles and another man allegedly threatened them with a gun, he said.

Det. Gregory Jacobson, who also took the stand Thursday, testified that other witnesses were also targeted.

After one witness, Dominique Shinaul, testified before a grand jury that she had been told to lie to police by Austin, Shinaul was attacked by Austin’s girlfriend, Tamika Howland, with a bicycle padlock, Jacobson said.

Austin wanted Shinaul and other witnesses to pin the blame for the murders on Andrew “Snowball” Garriot, Thomas’s cousin, Jacobson said.

Defense attorney Richard Kling, representing Austin, tried to score points by forcing Jacobson to admit that though Scott and other key witnesses against Austin changed their stories multiple times, they were never given lie detector tests.

Less important witnesses were given lie detector tests, noted Kling, who also got Jeffery Scott to repeat his allegation that he was beaten by police before he incriminated Austin.


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