Former Suspect In Police Killing ‘Hoping They Get The Right Person'

Man No Longer Suspected In Deaths Of Robert Soto, Kathryn Romberg

On a lazy August morning, Jason Austin awoke to find eight police officers surrounding his bed with their guns drawn.

"I just seen them all around me," Austin, 26, said Monday in his attorney's downtown office. "They grabbed me off the bed, twisted my arm and put the cuffs on."

The only man to be charged with the deaths of Chicago police Detective Robert Soto and social worker Kathryn Romberg, Austin was terrified then and remains so, he said in his first interview since being released from the Cook County Jail.

"Everywhere I go, I got to look over my shoulder and got to be worried about what's going to happen. I can't live like I was living," said Austin, whose attorney, Jeffrey Granich, filed a federal lawsuit Monday on his behalf and three others who claim they were physically assaulted by police during the high-profile investigation.

Austin said officers never beat him but refused to give him food and water for three days as they tried to question him. The father of three said he remained tight-lipped in the interrogation room and would only tell police that his maroon Buick that police tied to the Aug. 13 shooting was in a West Side auto repair shop at the time.

Chicago police spokeswoman Monique Bond on Monday said that detectives had conducted themselves in a professional manner throughout the course of the investigation.

"The department relies on a number of investigative tools such as electronic recording interrogation to ensure investigative integrity, and we will continue to follow the evidence wherever it may lead," said Bond.

Sources told the Sun-Times that witnesses began recanting their accounts, fearing retaliation. A teenager who sources said was dating Austin was arrested and charged with beating one of the witnesses after Austin was released.

Austin said Monday he was unaware of any attempts by his friends to intimidate witnesses.

Austin said that in the hours before the shooting he was driving around in his van with friends. He then pulled over and spent the rest of the night hanging out with childhood friends at Ohio and Kedzie when he heard distant gunshots but thought nothing of it.

"I was doing my regular routine, hanging, messin' with the females," Austin said.

Austin was arrested Aug. 16 and charged with Soto and Romberg's deaths. He spent nearly a month in jail but was released after the case crumbled, including what prosecutors called "challenges with witness statements."

Austin on Monday described both the fear of being charged in a potential death penalty case for a crime he says he didn't commit and the exhilaration of finally being cleared of all charges.

"I was feeling really blessed at the time. I was just thanking the Lord. I'm hoping they get the right person who did this," said Austin, who realizes prosecutors can refile charges against him.

Austin now spends his time with his three young boys and girlfriend and hopes to eventually complete his GED. He still doesn't know what led police to make him the focus of the investigation. He said maybe someone who holds a grudge against him tried to frame him. The lawsuit filed Monday alleges that Austin's friends -- Antwan Belcher, Jeffrey Finley and Michelle Riley -- were beaten by Area 4 police when they didn't help build the case against Austin.

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