Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012 | 6:03 p.m.
A suspect is in custody in a 2004 homicide that stymied authorities until a cold case review this year yielded DNA evidence from the crime scene and Metro Police were able to reach a key witness who had broken contact with police in 2006.
Marco Cesar Romero-Laguna, 28, is in the Clark County Detention Center, charged with murder in the death of Latoshia Williams, whose burned and beaten body was found in Aug. 17, 2004, in a housing development near Sam Boyd Stadium.
Williams’ body was discovered by a heavy-equipment operator near Gold Mint Lane and Silver Eagle Avenue in the Copper Creek housing development, the county’s complaint said. The equipment operator’s Caterpillar scraper came across what he believed was a mannequin. But when he looked closer, the complaint said, he realized the figure was the charred body of a woman, and he alerted police.
The body was burned beyond recognition, the complaint said, and Metro detectives noted that a flammable liquid was used, and found some burnt matches at the scene. Efforts by the Clark County Coroner to identify the woman were not successful.
Two months later, an email alerted the Coroner’s Office to the woman’s possible identity. Investigators then were able to get in touch with Williams’ family. In July 2005, DNA test results confirmed Williams as the victim.
Years passed and the case languished unsolved. But in 2009, detectives received a written statement from Romero-Laguna’s ex-girlfriend and mother of his child. In the statement, the woman told detectives that Romero-Laguna had confessed to her that he had killed Williams.
The statement said Romero-Laguna had met Williams walking on Boulder Highway near Desert Inn Road and Lamb Boulevard. They had returned to Williams’ hotel room when Romero-Laguna found her trying to steal money from his wallet, the statement said. He then began to hit her, and because he feared she would call the police, he strangled her with a phone cord, the statement said.
The statement went on to say that Romero-Laguna kept Williams’ body for two days, scrubbed it clean, including the fingernails, and tried to burn it with gasoline. Romero-Laguna finally used a truck from the car dealership where he worked to transport the body to the housing development. There, he dumped the body from a container he had kept it in, and took care to wipe away his footprints, the statement said. Romero-Laguna’s ex-girlfriend said she was able to photograph a picture of the victim’s ID before Romero-Laguna threw it away.
The ex-girlfriend indicated her willingness to cooperate with police on the case, but she also told police she feared for her life and the life of her child, who was fathered by Romero-Laguna. The ex-girlfriend moved out of state and out of contact with Metro.
After the cold case review in February turned up DNA on four partially burnt matches, Metro was able to re-establish contact with the ex-girlfriend. In June, detectives obtained DNA swabs from the girlfriend and Romero-Laguna’s son. The son’s DNA was consistent with DNA found on the matches.
In July, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office filed charges in Las Vegas Township Justice Court against Romero-Laguna. He was extradited Sunday from Milwaukee, Wis., and was booked into jail on Monday. He is scheduled to appear in Wednesday morning at a court hearing.