A Judge Judy rerun that aired Wednesday that initially seemed like an amusing-enough spat between a landlord and her former tenant actually had a dark undercurrent as it turns out that the plaintiff in the case was convicted of manslaughter and served a 15-year prison term for shooting his girlfriend in the face. The shot killed her immediately. In 2018, soon after his release, Craig Veale updated his profile picture to depict himself holding a gun with the caption “Hot as a pistol.”
Veale’s criminal history (in those words) was referred to vaguely as Judith Sheindlin heard his case. That this guy would refer to himself as “hot as a pistol” played like a comedy of the absurd out of context as Judge Judy admonished him for doing so. “Considering your history, I wouldn’t have put this up for a millisecond,” she said. “If you want some woman to think that you’re ‘hot as a pistol,’ there are other things that you can post instead of this. This is pretty dumb, got it?”
It wasn’t until the litigants’ exit interviews that the audience had any indication that this was not merely dumb, but flagrantly disrespectful. The defendant, Jennifer Zachreson, whom Veale was suing for evicting him from the apartment he’d rented from her (and then locking him out), said, “This is a guy who just got out of prison for murder for 15 years, shooting his girlfriend in the face.” He claimed he had informed her of his criminal history; she said that he told her his crime was domestic violence.
In actuality, Veale was charged with first-degree murder in 2002 for killing his girlfriend of 13 years, Loretta Romeo. Romeo had reportedly wanted out of the relationship with Veale, who was heavily drinking at the time of her death. This paragraph from a brief of appellate in response to Veale’s attempt to appeal his case summarizes how a man who shot his girlfriend square in the face and instantly killed her was ultimately convicted of manslaughter:
Sometime early in the morning on December 28,2002, Defendant picked up a loaded shotgun during an argument with his girlfriend. He pointed the gun at her, as she stood only a few feet away, and pulled the trigger. The shotgun blast blew off the bottom-of her face and killed her. The State claimed the shooting was intentional and charged Defendant with murder. The jury found that it was reckless and convicted him of manslaughter. Defendant claims that he acted only with criminal negligence and is, therefore, guilty only of negligent homicide.
During the trial, Veale claimed he had been attempting to unload the gun when he shot Romeo:
Defendant testified that at some point in their argument Loretta saw the shotgun and told him to put it away. “As far [Defendant] can remember,” the only reason he picked up the gun was to remove the live round from the chamber (“I think I remembered that I had a round chambered, I can’t remember, but there’s a little button on it that I could push and the slide will come down. And I thing that I was trying to get that”). He admitted that he intentionally pointed the gun towards the bathroom mirror, but claimed that he needed the light from the bathroom and thought Loretta was standing towards the other end of the mirror. He admitted that just before the gun fired, Loretta demanded to know what he was going to do. Yet, he claimed that in the next moment, when the gun fired, he did not see her, because he was looking down at the gun. He also asserted that because he was “drunk he was not “paying attention” to where Loretta was standing. But he admitted that he knew she was in the bathroom and standing, at best, at the other end of the mirror within a couple of feet from where he was aiming.
During his 911 call, according to the document, he told the dispatcher, “Oh my God I just, I just killed my girlfriend...I shot her with my shotgun..How stupid am I?...Point blank, she’s dead.”
In court, Veale “conceded that the evidence was legally sufficient to support a reckless finding and asked the trial court to instruct the jury on the lesser charge of manslaughter.” Thus when he attempted to appeal the decision, the state argued: “Having thus admitted that a reasonable jury could find him guilty of manslaughter, he cannot now claim the opposite.” He was sentenced to 1 to 15 years in prison in August 2003. In 2008, the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole decided that Veale would be released when his sentence expired in 2017. The Utah Department of Corrections confirmed to Jezebel that he was released in December 2017. He joined Facebook in 2018, and the earliest post on his wall is dated January 10, 2018. It includes two comments about him being “out.”
It is hard to fathom why this man decided that going on television would be a good idea. Or showing his face in public at all. Nonetheless, it seems that a few people agreed with his claim of being “hot as a pistol”—one point of contention between Veale and Zachreson was whether he was allowed to have women over in the room he’d rented from her. His version of the lease did not include that provision but that which Romeo submitted into evidence did. She claimed she kicked him out for violating his lease. Because she submitted a photocopy and not the original document, Sheindlin could not negotiate the discrepancy in lease agreements and tossed the lease out as potential evidence. Sheindlin ultimately ruled in Veale’s favor and ordered Zachreson to pay him back rent he had paid for the time after he’d been evicted, as well as his deposit. He was awarded $1,500.