As Hector Quiles was learning how to pull himself from his wheelchair into bed without his legs, the man who allegedly shot and paralyzed him learned he won’t walk free, either.
Those two scenes occurred 16 miles from each other Tuesday.
In the state Superior Court building on Church Street in New Haven, Judge Patrick Clifford lowered the bond amount for Kerwin Romero, but not low enough to allow the 29-year-old to get out of jail.
Romero, who’s been in jail since he was arrested Oct. 23, is charged with shooting 28-year-old Quiles on Sunday Oct. 14 at the corner of Hamilton Street and Grand Avenue, near the Farnam Courts housing project. Quiles was struck by three bullets, one of which severed his spine.
Romero has pleaded “not guilty” to the crime.
While Romero made his court appearance, Quiles was at work in rehab at the Gaylord Specialty Healthcare center in Wallingford, adjusting to a life without the use of his legs. He recently got a yellow bracelet indicating that he can move himself in and out of bed without a nurse. The bracelet is a first step towards going home, towards freedom—something he hopes Romero doesn’t have for a long time.
The two men have led intertwining lives in New Haven, bound together by their relationships with 29-year-old Vanessa Melendez, who has mothered children with both men.
It was on the birthday of the youngest of those children that Quiles was shot.
According to police, Quiles and Romero had a confrontation on the street—not far from a children’s playground—that ended when Romero pumped three bullets into Quiles’ torso.
On Tuesday morning, Romero entered a sixth-floor courtroom in the courthouse on Church Street in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. He smiled at family members in the gallery and turned to face the judge.
Romero’s attorney, Glenn Conway, asked the judge to lower Romero’s bond from the $500,000 it had been set at. He said that two independent witnesses confirmed that Quiles has been trying to run Romero down with a car just prior to the shooting.
Prosecutor John Doyle argued that wasn’t true and that even if it were, it wouldn’t be relevant.
Conway managed to convince the judge to reduce the bond to $99,000, cash only, and payable only in court. It’s still higher than Romero’s family can afford, Conway said later. But a lower bond will mean Romero doesn’t have to wear a jumpsuit and can be moved to jail in New Haven.
A couple of hours later, Quiles was being wheeled back into the elevator by his older sister Maritza after taking a breath of fresh air outside the Gaylord in Wallingford. His phone rang: the prosecutor was calling to tell Quiles what had happened in court.
“We don’t want him out,” Martiza said of Romero, while her brother sought assurance from the prosecutor that Romero won’t be able to ask the judge again to lower his bond.
Moments later, Romero was back in his room on the second floor. He moved himself into the bed, with his sister’s help, then lifted his shirt to reveal the scars from his recent shooting. A bag of fecal matter hung from his abdomen next to a large bandage over his belly.
“This is my poop bag,” he said. “This is where I crap out of.”
The first bullet severed his spine, Quiles said. The second rattled around inside him, perforating his colon along the way.
“I’ve got to stick a tube in my penis to pee,” he said. “I’m dead from the belly button down.”
Here’s what Quiles said happened on the day he was shot:
He was coming back from his mom’s house with food for his 4-year-old daughter Shelannie’s birthday when his girlfriend Melendez called. She was upset. Romero was in the house and they were arguing about his daughter, 12-year-old Leslie. Romero was angry that Leslie hadn’t picked up his phone call.
Quiles arrived home and found three crying kids, Shelannie, Leslie, and 6-year-old Kerwin Jr., the other child Vanessa had with Romero. Romero and Melendez were arguing upstairs. Eventually Quiles and other family members convinced Romero to leave. He stormed out.
Quiles left to rerun the car he had borrowed to get the food. He spotted Romero riding a motorbike. “I tell him to pull over so I can talk to him.”
Romero pulled over at the corner of Grand and Hamilton. “I got out of the car and walked up to him,” Quiles said. He offered to talk to Romero after the party. “We can sit down like grown-ups and we can have a conversation.”
“He didn’t say nothing,” Quiles recalled.
Quiles turned to walk back to his car. That’s when he heard Romero say, “I feel like niggas is trying to play me.”
“That’s when I hear the first shot,” Quiles recalled. He said he knew immediately he’d been paralyzed. “I didn’t even feel the pain of the bullet.” He heard a second shot. He lay on the ground, calling for Melendez, and lost consciousness when she arrived.
“You see that?” Quiles said, pointing to his twitching legs stretched out before him in the hospital bed. “My nerves, they just jump.”
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be able to walk again, Quiles said. “The bullet severed my spine completely. There’s no hope for walking.”
“I had a dream last night of walking, and woke up in a sweat,” he said. “To me that’s a horrible dream to have.” It’s like being in prison and dreaming you’re free, he said.
Quiles has some experience behind bars: He said he did some time for smoking weed while on probation for truancy when he was a minor.
Quiles grew up in New Haven, went to school at Wilbur Cross, but didn’t finish. He started dating Melendez 13 years ago. “She was my first.”
They had an on and off relationship for years. Quiles said he took care of Romero’s kids with Vanessa when Romero was in prison. (Romero has been convicted of assault twice, along with risk of injury of a child and criminal possession of a pistol.) Quiles said he taught Kerwin Jr. how to use a toilet, while his dad was in prison.
Quiles said he has no felony convictions. His record shows a string of four convictions for motor vehicle charges. He also has a gun charge pending against him—carrying a pistol without a permit. Quiles said he found a pistol downtown and picked it up to give to police. He’s facing an interfering with an officer/resisting charge as part of the gun charge.
Before he was shot, Quiles said he was living a quiet life with a daily routine: Wake up, take Melendez to work at Dunkin Donuts, come back home, get the kids off to school, work on cars (he was a mechanic, he said), pick up Melendez from work, have dinner as a family.
“I wasn’t in the streets running around,” he said.
Now he can’t do any running at all. “I can’t do nothing with these dogs,” he said, slapping his thighs. “These dogs, they’re just dead.”
Quiles said Shenallie came to visit recently and tried to tickle his feet like she used to do, to make him laugh. It just made him cry he said.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “I’m always depressed.”
On Tuesday, Quiles got good news on the whiteboard at the foot of his bed: A discharge date of Dec. 4.
In the meantime, he’ll be spending Thanksgiving in the rehab center. He said the place will be flooded with his family. His mom is bringing a full Thanksgiving dinner.
And there will be a birthday cake for little Shelannie, who never got to celebrate her birthday after her dad was shot by her half-siblings’ dad.