Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Daughter testifies about fatal purse snatching outside T.J. Maxx

Steve Cruz, 39, right, sits with attorney Dean Livermore during his trial on first-degree murder.


Steve Cruz, 39, right, sits with attorney Dean Livermore during his trial on first-degree murder.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Jennifer Roma took one look at the man lurking outside the T.J. Maxx where she'd been shopping with her mother and clutched tighter to her purse.

Before she knew it, he swept around behind her and grabbed at her mother's purse. Linda Roma didn't let go.

"She was really fighting," Jennifer Roma, 34, testified Monday.

In the struggle, the man got hold of the handbag, and Linda Roma fell and struck her head on the ground.

The next day, after suffering bleeding in her brain, she died in a Tampa hospital. She was 62.

Authorities charged Steve Anthony Cruz, 39, with felony first-degree murder. His trial started Monday. Even though authorities acknowledge he likely didn't go to the shopping center that night to kill anyone, he can be charged with murder because Linda Roma died during the commission of a felony — in this case, strong-arm robbery.

Cruz's girlfriend, Lisa Dillard, drove the getaway car the night of the attack, Nov. 12, 2008, authorities say. The two were captured on a Walmart surveillance video trying to use Roma's credit card an hour after the incident. Authorities spread pictures from that video around, and tips led to the arrests a few days later.

Dillard, 41, was charged with being an accessory after the fact. She pleaded no contest last year and was sentenced to more than three years in prison. She is expected to testify this week.

Linda Roma was a retired nurse and full-time caretaker for her ailing husband, Ralph. They had just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary.

Jennifer Roma bought a house less than 2 miles from her parents' place in Hudson. With her husband working late, she and her mother decided to go shopping. They were looking for household items, and they debated between JCPenney and T.J. Maxx. The decision still haunts Jennifer Roma today, she said.

She broke down several times on the witness stand, but still described the incident in sharp detail. She said she was trying to imprint the incident in her mind as it was happening — the appearance and race of the attacker, the way she screamed profanities as she chased him, the fact there was no tag on the getaway car.

Most vivid was the image of Linda Roma, splayed out on the parking lot pavement.

"My mother was on her stomach, and she had her hands braced against the ground," Jennifer Roma testified. "I was trying to talk to her and she didn't respond. She was vomiting."

Cruz's attorneys acknowledge that he went to T.J. Maxx that night and snatched Linda Roma's purse. But they say the state is relying on the memories of witnesses who were traumatized by what they saw to make the case for murder.

"It's going to become obvious that people who shared this event have differing memories of it," Assistant Public Defender Violet Assaid told the 12-member jury.

Dean Livermore, Cruz's other public defender, asked Jennifer Roma whether she might have been the one to knock her mother down when she went after Cruz.

"Absolutely not," she said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at or (727) 869-6245.

Daughter testifies about fatal purse snatching outside T.J. Maxx 02/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 1:24am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.