BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The trial in a Lackawanna murder that went cold for 30 years got its first hearing in an Erie County courtroom, Friday morning. Michael Rodriguez, 60, is charged with second degree murder in the brutal stabbing of his estranged wife.
The prosecution and defense both presented dramatic opening statements in Rodriguez’s trial–charged with stabbing his estranged wife, Patricia Scinta Rodriguez, the mother of two of his children.
Rodriguez’s body was found in a Lackawanna cemetery on Good Friday morning, April 13, 1979, but the case went unsolved for 30 years. She had been stabbed 108 times.
At the request of Lackawanna’s police chief, State Police re-opened the investigation in 2009, and Rodriguez was indicted in November, 2013. Assistant Attorney General Diane LaVallee told jurors DNA evidence eventually tied Rodriguez to the murder.
“He was wearing a brown leather jacket–a leather jacket that 30 years later was tested for DNA, and Patty’s blood was found on it.”
LaVallee also told jurors, two of Rodriguez’s friends will testify he admitted killing her, and quoted one of the women: “‘You need to come home, right away. I just killed Patty,’ the defendant said. ‘I just stabbed Patty in the cemetery,’ the defendant said.”
But defense attorney Paul Cambria shot back that Rodriguez is innocent of the charges, “he was not guilty back in 1970, and he is not guilty today,” and told jurors the DNA evidence is unreliable, that back in 1979 evidence was handled a lot differently than now.
“There is a vast question about the handling of these exhibits. They were in an evidence room in the Lackawanna Police Department. There had been a fire in the evidence room, the firemen put the fire out,” Cambria told jurors.
Cambria also said, initially detectives did not find any of the victim’s blood on Rodriguez’s clothing, and suggested the blood discovered in Rodriguez’s jacket might have been transferred from Patty Rodriguez’s bloody clothing.
“That just like there was no proof in 1979, no proof in 2009, there is no proof now to sustain a guilty verdict,” Cambria said, and told jurors key Lackawanna police involved in the initial investigation–who could explain how the evidence was handled–have died.
Erie County Judge Michael D’Amico is presiding over the trial, and has ordered Rodriguez to remain in custody without bail.