Husband accused of killing Peterson School teacher going to state mental facility

A 42-year-old man accused of stabbing his school-teacher wife to death will be sent to a state mental hospital before his trial can move forward, a Merced County judge determined Monday.

Judge Marc Garcia determined defendant Rudy Romero is mentally incompetent to stand trial. He's accused of killing 44-year-old Diane Romero at the couple's Tioga Court home on Sept. 16.

The judge's decision suspends any further court proceedings in the case until Romero's mental issues are successfully treated.

Garcia didn't elaborate on what condition Romero is suffering from, but he determined the defendant is unable to proceed with trial and incapable of assisting with his own defense. Romero's medical records aren't public.

Jeffrey Tenenbaum, Romero's attorney, said his client will still face murder charges. "When a doctor determines he's competent, he'll be brought back to court," Tenenbaum said. "That could be several months, or years."

Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Carroll, the prosecutor in the case, said he's hopeful Romero's visit to the state hospital won't be an extended stay. "I am hoping it doesn't take more than six months," Carroll said. 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 found the defendant with superficial stab wounds his family's backyard, and his wife's body was found in the backyard in the pool. She'd been stabbed numerous times, and prosecutors said marital problems between the couple led up to the killing.

Prosecutors believe 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.

Managing Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.