Attorneys give closing arguments in first-degree murder case


Juan Carlos Rodriguez

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — An attorney for Juan Carlos Rodriguez urged jurors this morning to think of his children when they consider whether to give him the death penalty for killing and decapitating his wife, Maria Magdalena Rodriguez.

In closing arguments in Forsyth Superior Court, Robert Campbell reminded the jurors of what Estela Rodriguez, 16, daughter of Juan and Maria Rodriguez, said in court on Tuesday.

“I love my Dad,” she said. “I want to be able to see my Dad.”

Her younger brother, Carlos Rodriguez, 14, also testified that he loved his father and wanted to have a relationship with him, despite the fact that his father was convicted of first-degree murder last week in his mother’s death.

Campbell argued that those were powerful words that the jury should consider in making its recommendation on whether Juan Rodriguez should get the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Campbell also argued that the jury should consider Juan Rodriguez’s life growing up poor in war-torn El Salvador. He said that’s not to excuse what Juan Rodriguez is accused of doing but to help explain why he should not get the death penalty. Campbell asked the jury what benefit would it serve to give Juan Rodriguez the death penalty. It certainly wouldn’t benefit his children, who have already lost a mother.

“This is about life or death. This isn’t about bricks and straw,” Campbell said, referring to a comparison prosecutors made about the aggravating and mitigating circumstances the jury must consider. “It’s about what those children told you.”

Forsyth County prosecutors said in closing arguments this morning that Juan Rodriguez deserves the death penalty and that it was his choice to kidnap, strangle to death and then decapitate his wife.

Assistant District Attorney Patrick Weede said Juan Rodriguez could have stopped at any juncture the events that eventually led to his wife’s death on Nov. 18, 2010. According to testimony during the trial, Juan Rodriguez beat his wife inside the bedroom of her apartment after she told him she was leaving him. Her children told authorities that when Juan Rodriguez opened the door, they saw him with blood on his knuckles and clothes and saw their mother lying on the floor, bleeding and breathing hard.

Juan Rodriguez told the children not to call 911, picked up Maria Rodriguez, carried her out of the apartment, placed her in the backseat of his car and drove away. That was the last time the children saw their mother alive, and prosecutors allege that Juan Rodriguez strangled his wife to death, cut her head off and then dumped her body at the end of Williamsburg Road, near where he was living while the couple was separated.

Her body was discovered there on Dec. 12, 2010, and her skull was found two and a half years later in the Belews Creek area of Forsyth County.

“What this defendant did was a three-part attack on Maria Rodriguez,” Weede said.

Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Martin argued that Juan Rodriguez beat his wife so brutally that police later found 100 spots of blood in Maria’s apartment. Juan Rodriguez didn’t show himself to be a loving father when he carried Maria Rodriguez out of the apartment like she was trash or when he killed her and then dumped her body like it was a piece of garbage, she said.

“(Maria Rodriguez) did not deserve what happened to her,” Martin said.

The jury will come back this afternoon to hear the final closing argument of Kim Stevens, also an attorney for Juan Rodriguez. After that, Judge Stuart Albright of Forsyth Superior Court will give jury instructions.

The case will go to the jury sometime later today or Friday.

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