After watching the weeklong trial, family members of Iris Romero-Banegas said they couldn’t believe the not guilty verdict on murder charges faced by Ofelia Barrera-Rodriguez.
Barrera-Rodriguez, 49, was acquitted Sept. 16 in Superior Court on all charges in alleged connection to the death of Romero-Banegas on Dec. 28, 2014.
Romero-Banegas, 43, was stabbed repeatedly at her Hidden Knoll home in Gainesville.
Samara Martinez-Romero, a niece of Romero-Banegas, said her aunt had moved all of her belongings to Gainesville while her children were on vacation in Honduras.
“She was nice, honest (and) respectful,” Martinez-Romero said of her aunt.
Romero-Banegas loved going to Helen and spending her time with the family at amusement parks, the woman’s niece said.
“She was always spending time with her kids, any time she had,” Martinez-Romero said.
Iris Romero, the victim’s 17-year-old daughter, described the mother of four as someone “trying her best to raise us in a proper way.” Romero said her mother was proud of her children for excelling at their schoolwork.
“She had hope that in this country we were going to be something more than just another worker,” Romero said.
After hearing three days of testimony and eight hours of deliberations, the jury came back at 8 p.m. Sept. 16 with a not guilty verdict on charges of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault.
Defense attorney Matt Leipold said he was happy for his client and her family, and thanked the jury for their attention to the case.
The Hall County Sheriff’s Office charged Barrera-Rodriguez after her DNA was found under Romero-Banegas’ fingernail. Leipold’s defense was that his client was scratched by the victim.
Martinez-Romero said the verdict was “upsetting.”
“I thought I had fallen asleep and I was in a dream or something,” Romero said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Three of Romero-Banegas’ children — ages 8, 10 and 15 — remain in Honduras and have had trouble coming back to the United States. Romero said the family looked at getting the other children Honduran citizenship in addition to their American citizenship.
“Their dad finally fixed the papers and he’s over there waiting on the passports to bring them back to the United States,” Martinez-Romero said.