Two guards allegedly recorded a California prisoner as “alive” during a safety check. But in reality, he was being mutilated and beheaded by his cellmate.
Jaime Osuna, 31, made headlines in 2019 when he murdered his cellmate, Luis Romero, 44. King County officials dubbed it the most “heinous” killing recorded. Osuna had cut out Romero’s eyes, an ear, and lungs before beheading him with a makeshift knife.
It is estimated that the killing took hours, meaning that guards had failed to conduct thorough safety checks. The reason the guards failed to notice the brutal murder remains unclear, but Romero’s family alleges in a new lawsuit that a white sheet was covering the cell bars.
Osuna had a history of being violent with cellmates. He had always been alone until officials assigned Romero, who had been transferred over from Mule Creek State Prison, to his cell. Two days after Romero’s arrival, Osuna killed him.
Both cellmates were convicted killers.
Now, new reports add fresh revelations and raise more questions about the brutal murder. The killing has prompted investigations and a lawsuit over why Romero was in a cell with Osuna in the first place. Osuna is a self-styled satanist with a history of attacking his cellmates. One of the reports also faults the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for conducting a shoddy investigation and delaying disciplinary action against the guards who failed to protect Romero.
The Department of Corrections disputed the findings of the reports, saying in a statement it had conducted a “thorough and complete investigation from the very beginning.”
But the attorney for Romero’s family, Justin Sterling, said the reports outline the department’s “veil of secrecy” that obscures officer misconduct.
The guards were meant to check the cell every so often, Sterling said, and the crime would have taken hours to commit. If the guards had been doing their required checks, Romero would be alive today, he said.
Romero had spent 27 years in prison. He was convicted of second-degree murder after fatally shooting a woman in Compton when he was a teenager and associating with gang members. He was nearing parole eligibility.
His new cellmate, Osuna, was serving a life sentence for the killing and torture of Yvette Pena, 37, at a Bakersfield motel in 2011. With face tattoos and flair for Charles Manson-like satanic antics, he became a dark figure during the 2017 trial, mocking the victim’s family and bragging to a television news reporter of his love of torturing people.
Sometime in the early hours of March 9, 2019, Osuna methodically tortured and killed Romero, authorities said.
Using a razor-style blade attached to a handle, Osuna disfigured Romero, cutting out one of his eyes, chopping off one of his fingers and removing part of his ribs and slicing out part of his lung. He ultimately cut off his head. He also posed the body, slicing Romero’s face open on either side of his mouth to resemble an extended smile, according to an autopsy.
Guards found Osuna wearing a necklace made of Romero’s body parts.
Kings County Executive Assistant Dist. Atty. Phil Esbenshade called it the most heinous slaying he had ever seen. “We do believe that the victim was conscious during at least a portion of the time,” he said.
Osuna had never had a cellmate until Romero arrived two days earlier.
During his stint in a Kern County detention facility, he had been found with hatchets and other weapons and was deemed a “high-risk, staff assaultive” threat to guards, according to the lawsuit.
In one incident, Osuna found his way into another inmate’s cell, where he stabbed and slashed his face, resulting in 67 stitches, the lawsuit says. When prison officials requested to photograph the inmate’s injuries, he declined, noting that he didn’t want to risk Osuna getting copies of the photos and adding them to his collection of “trophies,” court records show.
Regular safety checks are considered an essential duty of prison guards, who must monitor the health of inmates and prevent assaults or suicides.