Thomas Peiser convicted of murdering Antonio Hernandez Romo in 2017.
On Thursday, September 26th, Thomas Gene Peiser of Miles was convicted of the September 2017 murder of Antonio “Tony” Hernandez Romo, also of Miles. Peiser was also convicted of 2 other charges in connection with the murder.
The incident occurred at Peiser’s home in the 800 block of Thomas Street in Miles at around 3:15 p.m. on September 21st, 2017. Peiser was accused of murdering Romo and then attempting to dispose of his body in a field. Romo’s body was found in a field 10 minutes from Peiser’s residence approximately 2 hours after the murder.
The trial began on September 23rd, 2019, almost 2 years to the day after Romo’s murder, and ended on Friday September 27th, 2019. There was testimony from Peiser’s mother-in-law, Kellie May, and the usual parade of law enforcement officers, the forensic scientist, medical examiner, etc. Several phone calls that Peiser made from jail to his wife Tamatha, among others, were played in court.
District Attorney John Best and prosecutor Stuart Holden prosecuted for the state. Andrew M. Graves was the defense attorney.
May testified in court that on the day of the murder she was going to pick up her grandchildren (Peiser’s children) at school between 3:15 and 3:20 p.m. May testified that she was flagged down by a friend on her way to the school. May said the friend told her, “a little bit about what was going on,” but that she continued to the school to pick up her grandchildren. On her way back with the grandchildren, May says that she saw her daughter, Tammie (Tamatha Peiser), standing at the house of the Holland family. May testified that Tamatha was upset and crying and that Tamatha told her that Tommy (Peiser) had shot Tony Romo. May testified that she asked Tamatha how she knew this and Tamatha replied that she was there when the shooting happened. May testified that Tamatha told her that Peiser was beating on Romo. May told the court that Tamatha then said, “I was yelling at him (Romo) to just tell him where the money is.” May stated that Tamatha also said that Peiser had a gun to Romo’s head. May testified that Tamatha told her that Peiser had instructed her to go get a gas can so that they could burn the body.
May says that after she was told this that she needed to get the children home to her house so that they weren’t subjected to what was going on. After May dropped the children off she returned to the Holland’s home. May testified that she asked if anyone had called 911 and that Tammie said that she had not and that she wasn’t going to. May said that she then called 911 and saw Miles police chief, Quentin Watkins, coming down the road, “headed to Tommy and Tammie’s house.” Runnels County sheriff’s deputy Clemente Mata also showed up at the scene. May said that Mata took her and Tamatha to the Peiser home.
Later in her testimony, May said that she gave Watkins a statement a week after the shooting and in that statement said, “Tommy shot Tony.” May testified that she knew Romo for, “5 or 10 years.”
During cross-examination the defense attorney, Graves, asked May about the way that Tamatha was acting that day after the shooting. He asked May if Tamatha was acting dramatic and histrionic and asked, “Isn’t she pretty much like that all the time.” May stated that it was true that Tamatha is like that most of the time. Graves then asked May if Tamatha is hard to understand when she’s acting histrionic. May testified it was true and also testified that acting dramatic it was one of the “mechanisms” Tamatha has used in the past.
May was dismissed and the state wanted to offer some jail telephone recordings into evidence. Graves objected and judge Ben Woodward listened to arguments for about 45 minutes as the judge, Graves, Best and Holden discussed the laws covering jail telephone recordings. The court reconvened and sheriff Car Squyers was called to testify as to the accuracy of the telephone recordings. Graves asked him if the jail telephones and computers were subject to problems from time to time. Squyers testified that that was correct but that the inmate telephones were on a different system and that they had not had any problems with those phones. Squyers testified that he’s listened to 25-30 recordings from the inmate telephones and that the system is capable of making accurate recordings.
The recordings were then submitted into evidence and excerpts from conversations were played in court for the jury. The main recording was a conversation that Peiser had with Tamatha regarding the murder. On the recording he says, “I fight to win. I’m so sorry. All I can do is try to win this <expletive> court hearing so I can come home. You can’t talk to the cops or the Rangers or anyone. I’m the only one who was there. No one else was there so it’s my word against no one’s word.”
The next witness called by the state was Forensic Scientist Steven Brent Hester. During Hester’s testimony he said that he tested several items for blood and DNA. Hester testified that he tested a left boot, right boot, boxer shorts, camo shorts as well as blood from the victim, along with swabs from other areas of the crime scene and truck. Hester said that Texas Ranger Jason Shea submitted all of the items to him.
According to Hester’s testimony, the swabs from the kitchen at Peiser’s home indicated, “188 octillion times more likely to have come from Romo than anyone else.” Hester also testified that the blood from the camo shorts which indicated that the blood was , “113 octillion times more likely to come from Romo and 1 unknown individual.” Romo’s DNA was the only DNA tested for on the shorts. Hester’s testimony showed that the other items tested for Romo’s DNA came back with similar results.
On Thursday morning Dr. Amy Gruszecki, a pathologist and medical examiner, was called by the state to testify. Gruszecki is the person who performed the autopsy on Romo’s body. She testified that she has conducted over 5,000 autopsies during her career. Gruszecki testified that Romo had a bullet wound and that the bullet entered Romo’s right temple and exited at the back of his head about 2” behind his ear. She also testified that the entry wound showed evidence of soot and stippling, indicating that it was a contact wound with the barrel of the gun against Romo’s head when he was killed. There was also a large contusion on Romo’s forehead. Gruszecki said that this was a “fluctuant hematoma” where a blood clot had formed between the skin and the skull. She testified that it would require a significant amount of force to cause this injury but not enough force to fracture the skull. Gruszecki also testified that maggot eggs were found in the bullet wound. This presumably occurred after Romo’s body had been dumped in a field. Gruszecki said that Romo did not have any defense wounds on his hands but said that a lack of defensive wounds does not necessarily mean that there wasn’t a struggle.
Gruszecki also checked for alcohol in Romo’s system. She testified that toxicology tests showed that Romo had a blood alcohol level of .237 and that a vitreous fluid taken from his eye showed an alcohol level of .283. Gruszecki testified that this showed that Romo had been drinking but had stopped drinking prior to his murder.
Tamatha Peiser was the next witness on the prosecutor’s list on Thursday morning. Defense attorney Graves informed the judge that Tamatha had told him that the only reason she was testifying was because she was being made to testify by the district attorney. Judge Woodward and the attorneys discussed the husband-wife privilege over several minutes. It was ultimately decided that Judge Woodward would call Tamatha in without the jury present, swear her in and ask her if she wished to testify. District attorney John Best said that he did not disagree with the judge’s approach and that Tamatha had made no indication to him that she did not want to testify.
Woodward called Tamatha in and once she was on the stand the he asked her if she understood the husband-wife privilege. She said that she did and Judge Woodward asked her to explain it to him so he could be sure that she understood. Tamatha explained it to him satisfactorily and said that she did not wish to testify against Peiser. Judge Woodward said that she was excused from testifying.
A handful of witnesses, mostly law enforcement officers, were called in by the defense on Thursday afternoon. The jury went into deliberation after closing arguments at around 4:45 p.m. Thursday afternoon. At 6:30, less than 2 hours after beginning deliberations, the jury returned with a guilty verdict on all counts.
The counts were: Murder, first degree, 5-99 years in prison; tampering with evidence – corpse – 2nd degree felony 2-20 years in prison and tampering with evidence – 3rd degree felony – 2-10 years in prison.
Peiser was sentenced by the jury to 3 life terms on Friday, September 27th.