Mother's friend arrested in death of toddler

Posted at 5:32 PM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 19:32:56-04

Police arrested a suspect in connection with the death of a missing toddler who was found inside a Lakewood apartment with a cord wrapped around his neck.

Roman Morales, 21, was booked into the Jefferson County Jail on investigation of  first-degree murder Tuesday morning. Morales is a friend of the child's mother and spent a lot of time at the home, according to Lakewood Police Department spokesman Steve Davis.

In fact, Davis said Morales was one of two men who were inside the home when the child was reported missing. While Morales and the other man left before officers arrived, they were found within an hour.

Lakewood Police said Morales was found several minutes later and taken to the police station for questioning.

"I'm told that sometime overnight, the evidence convinced our detectives that this male was responsible for the child's death," Davis said. "At that point, he was formally taken into custody, transported to the Jefferson County Jail and booked in on a charge of first-degree murder."

The original call about the missing boy came just before 12 p.m. Monday afternoon from an apartment in the 2500 block of South Sheridan Boulevard, Davis said. That address is north of Highway 285 and west of Federal Boulevard.

The caller indicated that the 2-year-old boy, Donny Ro'Mello Romero, had been missing for about 10 minutes.

Police and family members began searching the area. Officers also conducted a thorough search of the apartment. Within a few minutes, the injured boy was found inside in another area of the apartment.

"I believe it was either a bathroom or laundry area of the apartment," said Davis. "There were quite a few details yesterday that came out from people talking with family members and neighbors -- details that I wouldn't normally release."

The child was unconscious and immediately transported to a hospital in very critical condition. Just before 2 p.m., the child was pronounced dead by medical staff, Davis said.

Davis confirmed something was wrapped around the child's neck, but declined to provide additional information about that on Tuesday morning.

"What it was -- how it was -- I certainly won't go into those types of details," Davis said. 

7NEWS dug into Morales background and found he has a history of domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse along with burglary and theft arrests, according to court records.

Last September, he was arrested for choking his ex-girlfriend, with whom he fathered a child, at his Denver home, court records state. As the woman tried to escape in her car, Morales allegedly grabbed her cellphone and hurled it, smashing a car window.

He was convicted of assault causing injury in that case and sentenced to 15 months of supervised probation, which required that he wear an electronic monitor, including a bracelet that would detect if he used alcohol. He was also ordered to attend domestic violence and mental health treatment.

He now faces an Oct. 15 hearing for violating probation conditions in the domestic violence case. Besides the child murder charge, he also has cases pending for felony theft in Jefferson County and violating a protection order and drug possession in Arapahoe County, court records state.  

Davis said the child's mother was in the apartment along with two or three additional adults. Detectives interviewed neighbors, friends and family members in connection with the case. 

Davis said Morales' story didn't add up.

"It's a process of listening to witnesses statements and what they're telling us and then looking at evidence," Davis said. "Do they match up? Do they corroborate one another? Sometimes the case -- it matches up perfectly and we feel good about it. Sometimes, and I'm told that's what happened last night, they grow farther and farther apart. Pretty soon, what you're hearing from people does not match the physical evidence that we have on scene."

Police do not expect to make any more arrests in the case.