Hamilton Heights Man Murdered for Shouting for Help During Robbery, DA Says
HAMILTON HEIGHTS — A 48-year-old Hamilton Heights man whose body was found late last month tied up and brutally beaten during a robbery inside his apartment was killed in an attempt to silence his cries for help, according to court documents.
Charles Romo, whose body was found tied up in his apartment by a home health care aide on Jan. 28, was allegedly tied up and beaten by ex-con brothers Keith Stokes, 50, and Ralph Stokes, 52, who were trying to force him into giving up his stash of cash and drugs, sources said.
“The guy was shouting for help so I had to beat him," Keith Stokes allegedly said after the attack, according to a criminal complaint. "I hit him so hard in the head that I cut off part of his ear."
The Stokes brothers, who sources said were homeless crack users who spent the past three decades in and out of prison, met and befriended Romo months before the murder through shared drug use. The pair believed they could shake Romo down for more drugs and money for a quick fix for themselves, sources said.
They allegedly roped in Bridgette Cash, 38, who allegedly accompanied Ralph Stokes to Romo's apartment at 87 Hamilton Place near West 141st Street, then waited downstairs for a while until he came down to give her some cash, according to a criminal complaint.
Later that night Keith Stokes met up with her and brought her back to the apartment, where he went back upstairs and returned with a blood-soaked white bag, according to a criminal complaint. He and his brother also had watches and cellphones that didn't belong to them, according to the complaint.
Cash was given Romo's ATM card with which she tried to take out $201.50 at 2 a.m. the day after the murder, but was unable to because she didn't have the right PIN number, according to police and sources.
Romo was found dead in his second-floor apartment the following day at 11:15 a.m. Jan. 28. His service dog, Ramses II, was at his side, officials said. Romo's former roommate, John Willet, was killed on 9/11 and Romo got the dog to help deal with the PTSD he'd developed as a result of the terror attacks, the Daily News reported.
Romo was found kneeling against his bed wearing only his underwear, with his hands and feet tied and with tape around his neck, according to sources. Contrary to initial reports, no bag was found over Romo's head, sources said.
Sources said Romo met Ralph Stokes months before the murder through their mutual drug use, and Romo later began spending time doing drugs with Keith Stokes and Cash.
Romo's apartment was torn apart by the time authorities arrived, with drawers and clothes strewn about the floor. His jewelry box and iPod dock were empty, as was his wallet, according to a criminal complaint. The brothers were caught on videocamera leaving the apartment building with a blood-soaked white bag, according to the criminal complaint.
Police were able to track the trio through phone calls made to the house, and when Cash allegedly attempted to use Romo's ATM card.
Keith Stokes had a criminal record dating back to 1985, and spent most of the last three decades in prison, including stints for robbery, burglary, and most recently criminal possession of a weapon, according to State Department of Correction records.
Ralph Stokes also had a long criminal history, with trips in and out of prison from 1985 until 2002 for drug possession, state DOC records show.
The Stokes brothers were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court Saturday night on charges of second-degree murder and robbery and were ordered held without bail. Ralph and Keith Stokes are due back in court Feb. 19.
Cash was arraigned Saturday night on charges of grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property and was released without bail.