Based on circumstantial evidence and testimony from a jailhouse informant, Miguel Roman was convicted in 1990 of murdering his 17-year-old pregnant ex-girlfriend, Carmen Lopez.
In 2008, DNA testing on several items from the crime scene excluded Roman as the perpetrator and implicated another man. With the help of the Connecticut Innocence Project, Roman was freed in late 2008 after nearly two decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.
On Tuesday, January 5, 1988, the body of 17-year-old Carmen Lopez was discovered in the apartment in which she was staying. The victim, who was six months pregnant at the time of her death, had been beaten, strangled with a heater cord, and hung from the back of a sofa. Her hands and feet were bound, and a piece of cloth was stuffed in her mouth. The medical examiner placed the time of her death at approximately 8 p.m. on January 3, 1988.
A neighbor reported hearing sounds of a physical confrontation coming from the vicinity of Lopez’s apartment at around 8:30 p.m. on January 3. Another observer claimed to have seen a car resembling Roman’s at the site of the apartment on the night of the crime. At the time of the investigation and trial, authorities believed that Lopez was pregnant with Roman’s child and that his possible motive for the murder was his inability to persuade Lopez to have an abortion. Although the FBI requested a paternity test before trial, neither the defense nor prosecution had a test conducted. Nearly two decades later, the post-conviction DNA tests that proved Roman’s innocence in 2008 also proved that he was not the father of Lopez’s unborn baby.
Roman was investigated shortly after the crime because of his past relationship with the victim. He was not fluent in English and his Miranda rights were read to him in Spanish. The bulk of the interrogation, however, was conducted in English. Roman allegedly gave police conflicting accounts regarding the last time he was in Lopez’s company. He also allegedly said he had driven to her apartment on January 4 but had left before seeing her or entering the apartment.
In addition, a friend of Roman’s told police that he asked her to lie about his whereabouts on January 3 and 4, requesting that she place him at a location other than the victim’s apartment. When questioned by police, Roman allegedly claimed that another friend had borrowed his car from January 3 to January 4 while Roman went shopping with his father and then played dominoes at home, a representation the friend denied.
Based on his alleged motive and statements during the investigation, Roman was arrested and charged with murder. During the trial, prosecutors argued that Roman was the father of Lopez’s unborn baby and that he killed her in a dispute over the baby. They also presented testimony that Roman had asked a friend to lie about his whereabouts on the night of the crime and allegedly confessed to a fellow inmate while awaiting trial.
DNA testing was conducted on the semen recovered from the victim’s body, and Roman was excluded as a possible contributor before the trial. Prosecutors told the jury that the victim may have had sex with someone else but they maintained that Roman had killed her.
Roman was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Post-Conviction Appeals and Exoneration
For years, Roman appealed his conviction and asserted his innocence. His direct appeal, in 1992, sought to overturn his conviction because statements he made during a police interrogation in English were used against him. He lost these appeals, but continued to proclaim his innocence.
In 2008, the Connecticut Innocence Project was able to obtain access to DNA testing on several items from the crime scene – including the semen from the rape kit, the cloth used to bind the victim and the electrical cord used to strangle her. DNA tests on each of these three items revealed the same male profile, excluding Roman as the perpetrator. Prosecutors have said the profile matches that of another man, Pedro Miranda, who was subsequently charged with killing Lopez and two other women in Hartford in the 1980s. Miranda had been investigated in each of the three murders but never charged in these crimes until DNA testing implicated him.
Roman was freed on December 19, 2008, and his exoneration became official on April 2, 2009, when the murder charge pending against him was dropped.