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Appellate judges overturn conviction in high-profile 2013 Long Island rape and murder case

Fernando Romualdo A man in prison for raping and strangling a Long Island woman in 2013 had his conviction overturned by state appellate judges who argued that a DNA match was not enough to blame him for the grisly crime, the Daily News learned.

The Judicial Department’s second appeals panel on Thursday dismissed the indictment against Fernando Romualdo for the murder of 23-year-old Sarah Strobel.

Strobel was found dead in a wooded field at Froelich Farm Nature Preserve near Huntington in Suffolk County on October 3, 2013. She was lying on her stomach, wearing knee-length pants and a shirt.

Her injuries indicated that she had been strangled the day before her body was discovered.

Romualdo, 32, became a suspect after the Suffolk Crime Laboratory matched his DNA with swabs taken from Strobel’s body as part of a sexual assault kit.

Fernando Romualdo (Suffolk County Police Department was charged with murder and rape in 2015

Romualdo was charged with murder and rape in 2015. He was already serving three years in prison at the time for the unrelated rape of a 16-year-old girl.

He was found guilty of Strobel’s murder in September 2017 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

But the appellate judges found that prosecutors during the trial were unable to offer any other evidence besides Romualdo’s DNA to show that he was at or near the crime scene, or that he and Strobel had sex at the time of their murder. murder.

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“At best, the DNA evidence established, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant had sexual contact with the victim at some unspecified time and place,” the panel wrote.

“By considering the trial evidence in the most favorable light for the prosecution, we found that it was legally insufficient to establish, directly or circumstantially, that the defendant intentionally caused the death of the victim.”

Suffolk County Judge Barbara Kahn could have dismissed the indictment on those grounds

Suffolk County Judge Barbara Kahn could have dismissed the charge on those grounds, the appellate judges said. “We found that the guilty verdict was against the weight of the evidence,” they wrote.

Romualdo told detectives that he did not know Strobel. His defense attorney acknowledged that Romualdo may have had sex with Strobel, but did not kill her. The lawyer did not call witnesses in Romualdo’s defense.

Appellate judges Cheryl Chambers, Sheri Roman and Linda Christopher, who formed the majority ruling, also ordered the case sealed.

Judge Jeffrey Cohen disagreed and voted to preserve Romualdo’s conviction, arguing that the presence of his DNA was sufficient to convict him.

“While an acquittal of the second degree murder charge would not have been unreasonable … I find that the weight of credible evidence supports the jury’s determination of guilt,” Cohen wrote.

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Romualdo is currently serving time at the Clinton Correctional Center in Dannemora. A hearing is expected to seal the case in five days.

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