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Sanity in Question for Merced Man Accused of Murdering Wife

MERCED - A Merced man accused of murdering his wife — a school teacher — is back at the Merced County Jail after state doctors concluded he’s fit to stand trial.

But his attorney is challenging whether the defendant is indeed sane.

Rodolfo “Rudy” Antonio Romero, 43, is the sole suspect in the September 2010 stabbing death of his wife, 44-year-old Diane Romero, at the couple’s Tioga Court home in North Merced.

The criminal case against the defendant was put on hold in May after Judge Marc Garcia determined the defendant was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Garcia didn’t elaborate on Romero’s mental condition, and his medical records in the case are confidential.

Romero was sent to Atascadero State Hospital in San Luis Obispo County. By the end of the year, he was back at the Merced County Jail after the Atascadero’s medical staff signed a certificate of competency, confirming that Romero’s mentally fit to stand trial in his wife’s killing.

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Romero’s attorney, has challenged the certificate of competency in court. Tenenbaum said Thursday he’s retained the services of Fresno psychologist Richard Blak to interview Romero. Blak’s findings will be submitted to the court, and Judge Garcia has set a Feb. 10 hearing to consider them.

Tenenbaum wouldn’t elaborate on why he believes his client might not be competent to stand trial, citing the confidential medical records and attorney-client privilege. Still, Tenenbaum acknowledged his client “isn’t doing well” and he’s worried about him. “I think I have a duty to follow up on that and make sure that he’s OK,” Tenenbaum said. “I still have a lot of concerns about his mental health.”

Official objects to contradiction

Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll staunchly disagreed with Tenenbaum, saying there’s no evidence whatsoever to contradict the hospital’s certificate of competency. “It’s mystifying to me how (Romero) couldn’t be competent, when there are trained professionals who’ve said in a certified document that he is,” Carroll said. “We want justice without any unnecessary delays.”

Diane Romero was a popular third-grade teacher at Peterson Elementary School, while her husband worked as a school bus driver. The couple had two sons.

Merced police responded to the couple’s home the morning of Sept. 16 and found the defendant in the backyard. He had superficial stab wounds and his wife’s body was found in the swimming pool. She’d been stabbed numerous times. Prosecutors said marital problems led up to the killing.

The prosecution believes Rudy Romero’s injuries were self-inflicted. He’s charged with first-degree murder, with an enhancement for the use of a deadly weapon. If convicted, he faces 26 years to life in prison.

He remains at the Merced County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

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