WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Manuel Ramiro had never been outside his native El Salvador until the last few weeks, but this morning he sat in an American courtroom for the first time in his life and testified on behalf of his son, who could face the death penalty for killing and decapitating his wife in 2010.
Ramiro was called by Juan Carlos Rodriguez’s attorneys in the sentencing phase of the first-degree murder trial that will determine whether Rodriguez receives the death penalty or a life sentence. Rodriguez was convicted of first-degree murder last week in the death of his wife, Maria Magdalena Rodriguez.
Speaking through an interpreter, Ramiro described the poverty and civil war that Juan Rodriguez and his five siblings experienced while growing up in El Salvador. Ramiro told the jury that when Juan Rodriguez was about 12, the family had to move off their land because the civil war had grown dangerous and the guerilla soldiers were planning to put field mines to keep the government’s army from moving in.
Ramiro said he, his wife and their children would often have to huddle on the floor because of the gunfire. The family moved several times because of the civil war and flooding.
At one point, Juan Rodriguez’s older brother, Jose, had crossed a river and never returned. Ramiro said he spent the night waiting for Jose to return. The next morning, he and Juan Rodriguez were taken to a body that was found. It was Jose, who had been shot twice, Ramiro said.
Ramiro said Jose’s death affected Juan Rodriguez because the two brothers were close, working and playing together.
When Juan Rodriguez went to the United States, he would send money back to the family, enough for Ramiro to buy land for the house he lives in now.
Under cross-examination from Assistant District Attorney Mike Silver, Ramiro testified that he had raised Juan Rodriguez with values and that his son had grown up in a household that didn’t have domestic violence. According to testimony during the trial, Maria Rodriguez and her three children spent more than a week in a domestic violence shelter the month before she disappeared in November 2010, and she had told friends that her husband had threatened to kill her if she left him.
Prosecutors allege that Juan Rodriguez strangled his wife to death and then decapitated her on Nov. 18, 2010, the day before she was reported missing. Maria Rodriguez’s decapitated body was found Dec. 12, 2010, at the end of Williamsburg Road in the Minorcas Creek area off Bethabara Park Road. Her skull was discovered May 29, 2013, in the Belews Creek area of Forsyth County.
Two of the couple’s children, Estela Rodriguez and Carlos Rodriguez, testified today. They both said under direct examination that they love their father and would like to have a relationship with him.
The trial will continue this afternoon and into Wednesday.