Witness to double murder: 'Why? Why would you shoot?' | Bleader

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Witness to double murder: 'Why? Why would you shoot?'

Posted By on 08.23.14 at 07:48 AM

Authorities say Jason Austin murdered a cop and a social worker on the west side in 2008, though witness accounts have shifted repeatedly.
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
  • Authorities say Jason Austin murdered a cop and a social worker on the west side in 2008, though witness accounts have shifted repeatedly.
Terrance Scott said he was ready to talk. He had to—he couldn't sleep, and the events of the previous few days kept flashing through his mind.

"You don't know how much I appreciate you right now," he told Chicago police detective Greg Swiderek on the evening of August 16, 2008. "Scary ain't even the word. I'm petrified right now."

Scott and Swiderek were speaking inside a locked interview room at a west side police station three days after the murders of police detective Robert Soto and social worker Kathryn Romberg. During that time Scott had been afraid to talk about the shooting. Now he said he needed to get things off his chest.

"I mean, when it actually happened it was like I was outside my body watching it," he told Swiderek. "He shot that guy and girl and it's like, there was no need to. No need at all. Why? Why would you shoot? What's the point? There's no fucking reason."

The shooter, Scott said, was Jason Austin, the boss of a heroin and cocaine organization at Kedzie and Ohio where Scott worked.

Video clips of Scott's conversations with Swiderek were played during the third day of Austin's sentencing hearing on Friday. (You can read about the first two days here and here.)

Austin was convicted two years ago on federal drug charges after an undercover investigation into his drug business. But his sentencing has been dominated by discussion of the double slaying. Though evidence wasn't strong enough to convict him of the killings, prosecutors want to show that he was likely responsible and deserves a lengthy prison term. They've asked for 40 years.

In several clips shown Friday, Swiderek asked Scott to recount the events that led up to the shooting. Scott told him that Austin and their friend Troy Davis picked him up to go to another friend's who had some great marijuana. On the way Austin saw Soto and Romberg parked in an SUV on Franklin just west of Sacramento.

Austin drove around the block and pulled up next to them, Scott said, and that's when he realized Austin had a .38 revolver.

According to Scott, Soto's window was rolled down, and Austin jumped out and pointed the gun at him. "Lower that shit!" Austin demanded, an order to hand over his money. As Soto fumbled with his wallet, Austin began firing, Scott said.

"I closed my eyes at the first shot," Scott told Swiderek. Austin fired several times and grabbed some cash from Soto's wallet before returning to the car, Scott said. Then he drove off at a normal speed as if he was calm.

Scott said he asked to be let out about a block later.

Scott told the detective that Austin had been looking to shoot a rival drug dealer and wasn't after Soto and Romberg.

But even that didn't explain the violence, Scott said: "I honestly think he was just trying to show off."

Scott repeatedly vowed to Swiderek that he was going to get out of the drug "hustle" and return to school at Kennedy-King College. He promised to cooperate with the murder investigation.

"I don't have no kids or nothing," Scott said. "If I was to go down for this, there's nothing for the world to remember me by."

Swiderek was sympathetic. He offered Scott cigarettes and asked about Scott's mother. They talked about the Cubs and the Sox, who were both winning.

But after the clips were shown, Austin's attorney, Richard Kling, argued to Judge Joan Lefkow that they don't tell the whole story. He noted that Scott had been interviewed by police at least 11 times before they started recording the conversations, and that Scott's story had evolved on each occasion.

Initially, Scott said he knew nothing about the murder. Then he said that he'd been nearby and saw a car driving away from the scene. Eventually he put himself in the car with Austin.

Swiderek himself interviewed Scott five times before taping anything. Kling asked the detective why the recorded version of Scott's story should be considered the accurate one.

"I was able to determine that in the first five interviews he was not being fully truthful," Swiderek said.

Still, a few days after the taped conversations, Scott told investigators that police had coerced him into implicating Austin. When he was questioned again, Scott went back to naming Austin the killer, saying he'd recanted after being threatened by Austin's brother.

Scott declined to testify for either side in Austin's sentencing. Last month he was sentenced to five years for his role in the drug conspiracy.

Austin's sentencing will resume next week.

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