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Bensalem man sentenced to 3 1/2 to 10 years for stabbing death of Jacob Simmers

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Bensalem man sentenced to 3 1/2 to 10 years for stabbing death of Jacob Simmers

The murder victim, Jacob Simmers

Kristof Phillips, Centurion Staff

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Bensalem man Joseph Romano, 21, was sentenced to 3 ½ to 10 years in prison for stabbing his friend Jacob Simmers, 19, to death while in a hallucinogenic drug fueled rage. 

Judge Clyde W. Waite sentenced Romano to a maximum of 10 years in prison for murder in the third- degree. The sentencing is well below guidelines laid out at Romano’s plea hearing back in November where he was facing a maximum of 47 years and 1 month.

 After reviewing the facts and hearing from an overwhelming amount of testimony from character witnesses who came forward on Romano’s behalf, Waite sided with Romano’s defense attorney, Steven Fairlie, agreeing the sentencing guidelines did not apply to Romano’s case due to the lack of malice.

“It is very simple to hand down sentencing when you have pure goodness on one side and pure evil on another, but this is not the case, as both parties agree there is legal malice, but no malice in the practical sense,” began Waite.

“Despite the fact you [Romano] never intended the death of Jacob Simmers he is nonetheless dead. We, in the community have been beseeching young people to stay away from drugs but it falls on deaf ears until something like this happens,” said Waite.

“I do agree with Fairlie that the guidelines for third-degree murder depends on malice, which I do not believe was present here so we can go below the guidelines but the sentence still must be serve,” Waite concluded. 

Benjamin Carter, 20, a key witness from the night of the stabbing, testified in great detail to Romano’s mental state in the early hours of March 30, which Fairlie used to establish his client’s lack of malice.   

Carter, now a resident of New York State, had a long friendship with the victim that began back in the fourth grade. “Jacob was the best friend I ever had,” said Carter.

Simmers, Carter and Romano first became friends in 2012 and during that time Carter described Romano as “friendly and supportive.” Carter told the court that there were no disputes between Romano and Simmers, to the best of his knowledge.

“I had never seen any violence from Joe before that night,” said Carter.

Carter testified that Romano consumed mushrooms at a party he, Simmers and Romano attended on March 29, the night of the stabbing. 

“[Romano] seemed perfectly normal at the party but as time went on I saw the mushrooms take effect,” said Carter. 

At first Carter denied seeing Romano consume the mushrooms, admitting only to having knowledge that Romano had consumed them. But after cross-examination by the prosecution, he admitted to seeing Romano mix mushrooms into a glass of lemon juice.

  “He mixed lemon juice with the mushrooms to advance or accelerate the effects,” said Carter.

Carter added that he knew Romano had taken mushrooms before the evening of March 29, but said Romano was never violent while on mushrooms before.

After the mushrooms had taken effect, Carter described Romano’s mood as “swingy,” saying one moment he was happy without a care and the next he was afraid something terrible was going to happen.

Simmer’s girlfriend at the time, Brittany Snyder, 20, corroborated Carter’s testimony, saying Romano acted strangely at times during the party.

“He insisted on sitting alone in the corner and was describing his hallucinations, how the couch had lines on it that were moving,” said Snyder. 

Eventually Carter, the designated driver for the evening, decided Romano should go home and drove him back to his residence.

“When he got into my car he seemed very happy and said, ‘there is nothing to worry about’… then he told me to get out of the car saying something about impending doom,” said Carter.

Carter described to the court how Romano was “babbling about God and other things that didn’t make sense,” on the ride home, and at one point Romano jumped out of Carter’s car screaming about demons.

After arriving at Romano’s house Carter took Romano inside. That weekend the rest of the Romano family was away on a college visit in East Stroudsburg for Romano’s younger brother, Dan, 18, testified Carolyn Romano, Joe’s mother.  

“When I tried to leave Joe came running outside and jumped on the hood of my car, begging me not to leave him,” said Carter.

Carter decided to stay with Romano and “babysit” but a lengthy conversation about philosophy triggered something in Romano, causing him to act violently, said Carter.   

“Joe suddenly exclaimed ‘That’s it!’ and stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, then he started yelling at me to get out of his house.” 

Carter left the house immediately but forgot his keys inside. Feeling unsafe about reentering the house Carter called Simmers to pick him up. When Simmers arrived he and Carter talked outside about Romano’s condition.

“I explained to Jake that Joe was angry, but Jake went inside after Romano answered the door with a calm demeanor,” said Carter.

Shortly after Simmers entering the house Carter heard shouting and then scuffling. “When I reentered I saw off to the right Joe overtop of Jake pushing him into the corner,” said Carter.

“I pulled my knife out, ready to kill Joe if I had to, and approached them. Joe stepped aside from Jake, then Jake said he was bleeding and I saw Joe had a kitchen knife in his hand.”

“I put my knife to Joe’s chest, and Joe begged me to kill him, his eyes weren’t even open and he was crying, it was like he wasn’t even there,” said Carter.

 “Jake’s final words to me were ‘Don’t kill him Ben, let him live’.”

With Carter’s testimony Fairlie was able to establish Romano had no “conscious malice,” and used it to argue that Romano’s sentencing should be more lenient than the guidelines.

“It’s true he had malice in a legal sense, but I don’t think Joe was mentally there, albeit he was physically there,” Fairlie told Waite. 

The prosecution disagreed with Fairlie’s stance, saying, “Voluntary Intoxication law can only be used to reduce murder charges from first-degree to third-degree, not to mitigate third-degree charges, your Honor.” 

The prosecution cited actions, like Romano’s deliberate attempt to increase the effects of the mushrooms by mixing them with lemon juice so “he could go even more crazy out of his mind,” to show Romano’s recklessness and disregard for others, which is the definition of third-degree murder. 

  While Fairlie’s ability to establish a lack of malice was instrumental in reducing Romano’s sentence, the numerous character witnesses swayed Waite’s decision.

“My son is a joy to everyone he meets,” began Carolyn Romano through her tears.

“When I was under stress he would come up behind me and twirl me, and we would dance together, it was so sweet.”

“My son doesn’t have violence in him and to Jake’s family I am so sorry for your family’s loss, there’s nothing any of us wouldn’t do turn back the hands of time.”

“I knew Jacob, he would come over and we would talk about food, what he was going to cook. Jacob was such a fun and pleasant boy.”

“I grieve for your loss, I feel your pain every time I walk past Joe’s empty room. You’re loss is greater than mine and in time I hope you can forgive my son,” said Carolyn Romano.   

Kelly McCarthy, 19, and long-time friend of Simmers said, “ One time me and Jake went down to Temple University in Philadelphia for a party and we accidently missed the last train home. Jake instantly called Joe and at 1:30 a.m. Joe drove down and picked us up from North Philly. 

Greg Proust, 24, and mutual friend to Romano and Simmers, said “Joe and I became good friends when he took film classes at Bucks County Community College. 

“Generosity is the first word that comes to mind when talking about Joe,” Proust said. 

“He let me and another friend shoot our student projects at his house, which is a real undertaking,” Proust continued.

“He and his family opened their home to strangers, and to shoots that lasted seven or more hours a day.”  

“Joe is my best friend and my whole world, he is the first person I think of when I need help. He’s funny and giving,” Dan Romano testified.

A statement from Erica Simmers, Jacob’s older sister, also heavily affected Waite’s decision.

“I didn’t prepare a statement in advance your Honor, so I’m speaking from the heart. Jacob was a kind and forgiving person. With Jacob’s last words he asked that Joe live. I believe in my heart that Jacob would want us to forgive Joe.”

“To Jacob’s sister, I want you to know your words here today made a difference,” said Waite before handing down Romano’s sentence. 

 

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Bensalem man sentenced to 3 1/2 to 10 years for stabbing death of Jacob Simmers