A convicted felon has been charged with last week’s slayings of an off-duty Chicago Police officer and a DCFS social worker who were shot to death inside an SUV.
Jason Austin, 26, of the 500 block of North LeClaire, was ordered held without bail Monday. He has been charged with murder and armed robbery for allegedly shooting Robert Soto, a veteran detective, and Kathryn Romberg, a supervisor for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Austin could face the death penalty for the double murder — which he allegedly told a friend about, prosecutors said in court.
Austin allegedly told the friend that he’d “hit a lick,” which prosecutor Maria McCarthy described as robbing someone. Austin then told his friend that he’d shot a police officer and expected the neighborhood to be “hot’’ because of it, McCarthy said.
Austin also allegedly asked several witnesses to provide false alibis for himself and two passengers who were with him that night in his car.
Chief of Detectives Thomas Byrne said robbery was the sole motive in the murders. “Somehow this robbery went obviously wrong,” he said.
Soto’s wallet was on the floor of the SUV, police said. Items from his wallet were found, but no cash, they said. McCarthy said “items’’ were missing from Soto.
Soto and Romberg were shot in the 3000 block of West Franklin Blvd. at about 1:30 a.m. last Wednesday. Soto told officers arriving on the scene, on Romberg’s block, that he had been the victim of an attempted robbery and was able to give them a description of three people.
Prosecutors said Austin pulled his car up behind Soto’s, walked to the driver’s side and pulled a gun and demanded money. Soto managed to call 911 and describe Austin’s car, a maroon Buick Regal that has been recovered, authorities said.
Two people inside Austin’s car saw him point the gun and demand the money, prosecutors said. Soto fumbled with his wallet. Austin then allegedly fired four shots into the SUV.
Police said video surveillance also helped nab Austin. The footage allegedly shows his car in the area before and after the shooting.
Prosecutors said four witnesses who were about half a block west on Franklin heard the shots and saw Austin’s car go by. Those witnesses knew the defendant and saw him driving. Witnesses also saw the two passengers in his car, whom they knew and have since identified.
Soto was assigned to the Bomb and Arson section and had been a police officer 23 years. Romberg has worked for DCFS for 13 years.
Steven Decker, Austin’s attorney, said he believes police arrested the “wrong person’’ and that his client has an alibi. Decker challenged the police version that Austin’s car was in the vicinity of the shooting that night. He also said Austin was not driving the car that night because it was in a shop being repaired.
“We submit this truly was a tremendous rush to judgment by the police department,’’ Decker said.
Decker said the “intense personal nature’’ of the investigation caused police to “rustle up as many young men as they could from the West Side of Chicago in hopes of finding someone they could charge.’’
Police say Austin has five prior convictions. He served two stints in state prison between 2005 and 2006 for convictions that include aggravated battery and drug possession.
In court Monday, Austin’s grandmother waved to him, and Austin puckered his lips and made an audible kissing sound as he looked her direction. He was wearing baggy blue jeans and a dark gray sweatshirt.