LAWRENCE, Ind. — Lawrence police arrested a man Friday in connection with the death of his roommate, whose body was found last month in a wooded area near Fort Harrison State Park.
Dawaun Lewis, 26, is now charged with murder in the death of 43-year-old William Romero.
On March 17, a man walking his dog discovered Romero’s body, which appeared to be covered by leaves, in the 9700 block of Trilobi Drive near Lee Road, according to authorities. Also found near his body were two tan or brown fabric covers with blood on them, according to court records.
The Marion County Coroner’s Office determined Romero’s cause of death was by gunshot and the manner of death to be homicide.
Lawrence police said one of the initial challenges was identifying the victim after his body was discovered. Court records show, he had no identification on him when he was found and was a John Doe.
“The investigators still continued to work. Of course, the postmortem examination tells a lot of the story also. It’s very much like pieces of the puzzle, instead of having all of the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, you have to find the pieces,” said LPD Chief Gary Woodruff.
A probable cause affidavit shows that through a latent print comparison of John Doe’s prints, investigators received a match in a federal database with the name William Romero, who previously lived in Panama City Beach, Florida, before moving to Marion County.
“All of the pieces started falling into place from there,” said Woodruff. “With any investigation like this, you start with the people closest to the decedent and kind of work your way along from there. You go through the process of elimination.”
In this case, Woodruff said, the process of elimination, along with evidence, led investigators right to Lewis.
“We never really could eliminate that individual as a potential suspect,” he added.
Court documents show, even after the victim was was found dead, his Nissan Altima with Florida plates was still being driven around.
Investigators learned Romero had not been to work at the McDonalds on E. 96th St. where he and the suspect both reportedly worked, since March 12, when he was scheduled for a shift. His body was found on March 17, and his license plate was captured by the technology on March 19 at 21 near McDonalds.
Other video surveillance, in addition to license plate reader data, was also obtained by investigators as evidence in the case, records show.
Documents show that on March 21, police located the victim’s vehicle parked near McDonalds as Lewis arrived late for his shift and towed it to the police department. Lewis was also transported for questioning, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Police executed several search warrants, including at Romero and Lewis’ home, located in the 5300 block of Wheel Estates East Drive in Lawrence, which “led to the development of evidence implicating Lewis’ involvement in Romero’s death.”
“They found pretty significant evidence leading them to identifying Dawaun Lewis as a suspect and eventually filing charges of Dawaun Lewis for murder and he was taken into custody on Friday,” said Woodruff.
“Of course, an arrest is just the close of the first chapter in a very long book,” he added.
According to court records, when investigators executed a search warrant at the home, they observed a bed with covers and a tan/brown couch that had a missing cushion cover. It was the same color as the fabric cover with dried blood that was located near the victim’s body when it was found, records show.
The detective also observed what appeared to be blood spatter on the wall next to the couch, documents show. A probable cause affidavit showed during a search of the home, investigators found mail belonging to the suspect, as well as a box of .22 caliber ammunition and a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber handgun.
A search warrant executed on the victim’s car found areas of dried blood, court records show. On April 12, forensic results returned, showing that a blood sample recovered from the passenger side of the vehicle matched the DNA profile of the victim.
Results of the forensic analysis also confirmed Lewis’ DNA was found on the trigger of the handgun and ammunition in the closet, and that DNA recovered from the front sight and muzzle of the of the handgun matches Romero.
A search warrant was also executed on the cellphone belonging to the suspect. Records show on the early morning hours of March 12, Dawaun Lewis’ cell phone was in the area of Trilobi Dr.
Police said, although they are grateful to receive help from the public, in this case the evidence helped guide them to the suspect, and eventually led to an arrest in the case.
“In this particular case we did have public help, but we didn’t necessarily need a lot of public help,” said Woodruff.
He hopes that this will bring a grieving family justice or at least some answers on what led to the death of their loved one.
“If nothing else, it offers the family of any decedent, especially the family of a decedent in a violent crime some sort of resolution or perhaps justice,” said Woodruff.
“Lawrence is a very safe community in the overall and in this area in particular. Finding a deceased person, that’s pretty unusual, that’s very odd. So, for our detectives to be able to get that individual identified, but identify what occurred to them, where it occurred at, the vehicle that was involved, confirm all that through forensic DNA analysis and ultimately identify and arrest a suspect within a month’s time that’s amazing work by a multitude of people,” said Woodruff.
In addition to Lawrence police, investigators also worked with the Panama City Police Department, as well as Marion County agencies in the investigation.
“The only acceptable number for homicide is zero. That’s the only acceptable number,” said Woodruff. “Whenever incidents like this happen and the evidence does fall into place, pieces do fall into place, it allows us to arrive at an arrest, it allows us to give good evidence to lead to an adjudication in court.”
Court documents did not detail any motive for murder. Lewis is currently being held without bond in Marion County and has an initial hearing set for April 19.