Saturday, March 22, 2008

Woman Describes Night Girl Was Killed in Romeo House

ASHLEY WILSON, a witness for the prosecution, cries as she testifies Thursday during the trial of Edward Romeo, who's charged with murder in the death of Rachael Martina. Wilson described seeing the girl's body. EDWARD ROMEO, left, listens to his lawyer, Bob Norgard, during his murder trial Thursday in Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter's courtroom in Bartow. Romeo is charged in the death of Rachael Martina.

Ashley Wilson was 13 when Rachael Martina was slain and buried in backyard.
By Shoshana Walter
Write an email to Shoshana WalterShoshana Walter
Police Reporter
Dept.: Metro Desk
(863) 802-7590

BARTOW It seemed like a normal evening for then-13-year-old Ashley Wilson.

With her mother out with her boyfriend, she knew she would be home alone for some time. So she got a ride to the Romeo household.

Aside from the two Romeo brothers, whom she knew through her older brother, there was no adult supervision at the house. Friends came and went as they pleased. Wilson hung out there often.

But that night in May 1999, Wilson said, Edward Romeo strangled a 16-year-old runaway named Rachael Martina, then joked about killing her and with help from his brother buried her in their backyard.

Police did not find out what happened until 2004, when Edward Romeo was arrested in the death of his brother Robert Romeo, and people began coming forward with information about Martina's death. Edward Romeo is serving 25 years in prison for killing his brother.

The State Attorney's Office identified Wilson in 2004 as one of the only living witnesses to the events of that night.

Romeo, 30, is on trial for Martina's death and faces the death penalty if convicted.

Referring to Edward Romeo as "Eddie," Wilson, now 22, told a jury Thursday morning the story of the night Martina was killed.

Only she, Martina and Robert and Edward Romeo were in the house that night, she said.

Earlier that evening, she said Edward Romeo had talked to her about his plan to strangle Martina with a leather rope he had slung loosely around his neck. But because Wilson thought the two were dating, she assumed he was just joking and "letting off steam."

She said she continued to think it was a joke, even after Edward Romeo came into Robert Romeo's room, where he and Wilson were playing video games, to tell them about what he had done.

He handed her Martina's necklace and led the two downstairs. It's a prank, Wilson continued to think, until she reached the last step and saw Martina's feet in the kitchen.

Then she saw the teen's lifeless body, in a white shirt and khaki pants, sprawled on the floor.

The girl had cotton in her mouth and the leather cord Edward Romeo had shown Wilson earlier tied tightly around her neck, she said.

The rope was tied in a constrictor knot, Wilson told Assistant State Attorney Paul Wallace. Edward Romeo had demonstrated it to friends before.

"At that point did you realize you were not having a joke played on you?" Wallace asked.

"Yes," Wilson replied, through tears.

Wilson continued to share her account of the night's events. When the three arrived in the kitchen, Robert and Edward Romeo rolled out a large, black body bag and zippered Martina's body inside.

They asked Wilson to help them carry the body into the backyard, she said, but she told them she felt uncomfortable doing it because her father had died.

The two brothers began to carry out the bag, but decided Martina was too heavy and put the bag in the trunk of Edward's car. Then they drove around to the backyard to bury Martina's body, Wilson recalled.

Wilson remained shocked, sitting on the ledge of the fireplace for a while. She said she could not go back home because she did not have a key and had no way to get there. She was terrified but did not want the brothers to think that she thought anything was wrong, she said.

When the two came back inside, Robert Romeo asked her to clean up the kitchen floor. Wilson took out some Windex and got to work.

After the brothers went to bed, she laid down on the couch to sleep, but couldn't, even with two knives by her side.

Despite her fears, Wilson stayed at the Romeo house until the following night. Edward Romeo drove her back home for dinner.

Until sometime before her 14th birthday in November, she kept visiting the Romeos. She said she did not want to stop going out of fear that Edward Romeo would think she had told police. She didn't tell anyone except for her best friend, nicknamed "Casper," she said.

Until investigators questioned her after Romeo was arrested, Wilson kept quiet about Martina's death. That silence was because she was terrified of Edward Romeo, Wilson said.

Her silence, defense lawyer Bob Norgard suggested, was because Wilson was covering up for Robert, a friend.

After more than an hour on the stand, Wilson finished testifying with tears, crumpled tissues and an admission of regret.

"Knowing what you know now, would you have gone to the police then?" Wallace asked.


"Are you sorry that you didn't?"

"Yes, sir."

The trial continues today in Judge J. Michael Hunter's courtroom.

[Shoshana Walter can be reached at or 863-802-7590.]

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