Archive for December, 2008

The Keene Sentinel:  August 17, 2008
A statewide shortage of Superior Court judges combined with a lack of lawyers willing to take court-appointed cases could set the stage for a perfect judicial storm.

“Things get slowed down because there is less judge time, and that may well cause a crisis,” said Newport lawyer Michael C. Shklar, who frequently performs court-appointed work in Cheshire County. “It will probably cause all hell to break loose sooner or later.”

The latest study by the National Center for State Courts said 26 full-time judges are needed to effectively manage the state’s Superior Court caseload.

The N.H. Legislature has authorized 22 judge positions, the statutory minimum, and two retirements and a resignation have dropped the number of active judges to 19.

Gov. John H. Lynch’s 11-member Judicial Selection Commission is screening applicants and is expected to fill the three vacant judge slots in December, according to Superior Court Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn.

“It certainly is a significant and growing problem around the state,” Lynn said of the judge shortages. “As criminal cases have increased, we’ve had a shortage of judges and civil cases are getting put on the back burner.”

Criminal cases are top priority because defendants have the right to a speedy trial. If their case isn’t heard in a timely manner, the charges against them will be dismissed. Civil cases have no time limit.

“Civil cases have to stand behind other cases, which have constitutional priorities,” said Cheshire County Superior Court Clerk Barbara A. Hogan. “The civil lawyers have had plenty of business, but they have to wait.”

The wait varies depending on the type of civil case, though most take at least a year before they’re ready for trial, and even then another six months could pass before a judge is available to hear the case, Hogan said.

“If you need two hours for a trial, I can give it to you in a couple of months or quicker if you can come in on a cancellation,” she said. “But if you need a week-long trial, we’re talking five or six months if you want a guaranteed slot.”

And if you’re waiting two or three years for a settlement to pay medical bills, legal fees or any other expenses often tied to lawsuits, the delay can be excruciating, said Concord lawyer James H. Moir.

“The brunt really falls on civil cases. Those get delayed and delayed and delayed,” he said. “The wait can be somewhat debilitating.”

‘Fewer judges … stretched far thinner than before’

An unexpected number of judges retiring and a delay in the rolling out of the Family Division, which was designed to free up more judge time for other civil and criminal cases in Superior Court, played significant roles in the shortage.

“The original plan was that the Superior Court judges would be reduced from the 29 we had authorization for in 2004 to 22 through the normal process of retirement that would roughly coincide with the expansion of the Family Division,” Lynn said. “That actually hasn’t happened. The timing didn’t quite work out right.”

Cases handled by the Family Division include divorce, child support, domestic violence, parental rights and some adoptions.

Superior courts in Cheshire and Hillsborough counties still handle marital cases, and won’t have Family Divisions any time soon, according to Lynn. He said that when the division finally arrives, the number of full-time judges in Cheshire County will be reduced from 11/2 to one.

“Marital cases represent a large part of our caseload,” he said. “We lost a good number of judges to the Family Division, because the caseload is being reduced.”

The county has one full-time judge, Brian T. Tucker, and a part-time judge, John P. Arnold, who spends six months out of the year in Sullivan County, where he is the only active judge.

There had been two full-time judges in Cheshire County before the Superior Court received a marital master, who is not a judge and is only authorized to handle marital issues, such as divorce and custody cases. A marital master makes a recommendation on how a case should be decided, but a judge still has the final say.

Shklar, the Newport lawyer, said the state may have made a mistake in creating the Family Division. He said marital masters were already handling many of the cases that are now being sent to the division, which spurred the reduction in judges.

“The theory was that once Superior Court judges no longer had to hear divorces they would have more time available,” he said. “It would have worked if these judges were hearing many divorce cases to begin with, but as it turns out most were already being heard by marital masters. Now there are fewer judges and they are stretched far thinner than before.”

Clerks feeling the pain of shortages, slim budgets

As litigants and lawyers struggle with delays, employees in Cheshire County Superior Court are dealing with staff shortages, tight budgets and antiquated equipment.

“We have a DOS-based computer system from 1992. We do everything on this system, from the actual data on all our files to notices of hearing and decisions,” said Hogan, the Superior Court clerk. “We’re working with that and we don’t have the optimum number of staff. I could use at least one more full-time person, preferably someone who has worked with DOS, which is very hard to find.”

To make matters worse, the already strained clerk staff has also been spending more time assisting litigants who can’t afford lawyers, Hogan said.

“The economy has created more litigants that do not have attorneys, which requires more staff time to educate them as to how they start the legal process,” she said. “We try to help them, but we cannot give legal advice and you have no right to an attorney in any civil case, no matter if you’re sued or want a zoning application overturned.”

The problem has become so widespread that state judiciary officials are talking about distributing forms and educational materials to courts across the state to assist people involved in civil suits without representation, Hogan said.

“Think about the economy now with people who are in debt and unable to pay their bills. Or people who work and are unable to collect payment for the work they’ve done,” she said. “For these people, hiring an attorney is the difference between paying their mortgage or not.”

The strain is also being felt in Keene District Court, where the civil clerk recently retired. Six remaining staffers are now handling the civil filings as well as their own jobs, Clerk Larry Kane said. He said he’s not sure when or if the vacant position will be filled.

“There are budgetary issues and I don’t know what the next step will be,” he said.

Lynch recently trimmed $1.6 million from the state judicial branch’s $70 million budget for fiscal year 2009.

Forty vacant clerical positions will not be filled and mileage reimbursement rates are being reduced for judges and clerical staff as part of the cuts.

Finding someone to take cases these days is hard

On the other side of the court system in the criminal arena, attorneys who are willing to take on court-appointed cases for meager pay are becoming a rare breed.

And as their numbers decrease, the likelihood of a defendant being set free because of a speedy trial issue increases.

Indigent defendants typically end up with a public defender, except when there is a conflict of interest or when there are multiple defendants. Then the defendant will be referred to a contract attorney, a private lawyer who agrees to handle a certain number of cases for the state. There are only two contract attorneys in Cheshire County.

“If the court cannot find a contract attorney, then they have to dredge up a private attorney from the streets,” said Shklar, one of the few lawyers in the area who accepts court-appointed cases. “The clerks have to call around trying to find somebody to take the case, and this certainly may slow things down.”

Money is the main reason lawyers are turning down court-appointed cases, Shklar said.

“You get $60 an hour, and it’s been that way since the early ’90s, when it was increased from about $30 an hour,” he said. “You’re paying for your rent, your staff, your fuel, your food and all the other overhead costs with that $60 an hour. … I do more than break even, but not a great deal more.”

Keene lawyer Paul G. Schweizer, one of the contract attorneys for the county, said if money were a factor in taking on indigent defendants, hardly anyone would agree to do the work.

“I’m a privately-retained criminal defense lawyer and the amount of money I get per case on contract is 10 to 15 percent of what I get on a regular case,” he said. “I do it because I feel it’s my responsibility to do some criminal defense work for people that can’t afford to hire their own lawyer. Somebody has to do it.”

Aside from the low pay, Shklar speculated that fewer law school graduates are deciding to become criminal defense attorneys because the job just isn’t as cool as it once was.

“‘Perry Mason’ isn’t on TV anymore,” he said. “Look at ‘Law & Order,’ do we ever win in that show? Prosecutors are in. I hate to say that, but do I think that has an effect on young people coming out of law school? Yeah.”

Also, young lawyers who are hired by private firms are expected to justify their salaries by bringing in profits, and that doesn’t happen when you’re working for $60 an hour, Shklar added.

“The shortage of court-appointed attorneys and judges are two features of the same problem. The New Hampshire court system is trying to do way too much with way too little,” he said. “I haven’t seen a dramatic impact yet, but sooner or later something will break. Someone will need an attorney and they won’t find anybody.”


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Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel:  September 27, 2008

For less than two hours, once a week, Jessie L. Carpenter gets to see her 5-year-old daughter at a supervised visitation center in Keene. Their conversations are limited to their surroundings. They can speak of nothing else.

“We cannot talk about people or things or activities outside that room,” Carpenter, 27, said in a recent interview with The Sentinel. “If she comes out with a statement that makes me uncomfortable, I cannot tell her she’s wrong. For example, she’ll call her stepmother ‘Mommy.’ ”

Carpenter and the child’s father are involved in a heated custody dispute. Their case file at Cheshire County Superior Court dates back to 2004 and is thick as a phone book. Their last hearing was June 6, but a judge has yet to make a decision in their case.

“It’s really difficult and unfair that I have to wait,” Carpenter said. “I was actually hoping to have my daughter here with me at my home over the summer. She’s school-age now. It’s probably twice as difficult for her because she’s going to school without the support of her mother.”

Increased caseloads, more complex cases and shortages of judges and clerical staff have led to higher numbers of overdue decisions across the state, which means more people are being left in legal limbo, their lives essentially put on hold until their cases are resolved.

Cheshire County has one full-time judge, Brian T. Tucker, and one part-time judge, John P. Arnold, who spends six months of the year in Sullivan County, where he is the only active judge.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that every day there are at least two stacks at least a foot tall of routine matters on Judge Tucker’s desk,” Cheshire County Superior Court Clerk Barbara A. Hogan said. “Some days there are four or five stacks, and he gets them done every day. He’s working on them before and after the court opens.”

The routine decisions Hogan referred to require either a “granted” or “denied” order from the judge. Sometimes, though, a judge must sit down and write a decision on a complex issue, such as Carpenter’s case.

“The judge has to make legal reasoning for why he made a particular decision,” Hogan said. “For something as important and emotional as family cases, it’s extremely stressful and challenging and we have great empathy for the people involved. We know it’s difficult, because the life of a child is a fleeting thing.”

In New Hampshire, there is a policy that gives judges 60 days to render a decision in any type of case after its final hearing. Carpenter’s case was one of three that were overdue in Cheshire County this month, Hogan said.

“It’s not getting better, but we’re holding our own,” she said. “As a supervisor, I worry because it’s hard and there’s no end in sight. We’re just dealing with it honestly so we don’t have any false expectations for ourselves.”

When a decision is overdue, the clerks make sure Superior Court Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn hears about it. The case files end up on his desk, and it’s his job to talk with the judge who failed to draft a timely decision and work out a solution.

“There is no real penalty,” Lynn said. “We could make the judge work on the decisions on his vacation time, but that’s never been necessary. They usually have a very good excuse for the delay.”

The judge in question could be in the middle of a lengthy trial, or the decision he or she is working on could be unusually complicated, Lynn said. Most of the time, though, they’re just overworked, buried in paperwork, he said.

Three years ago, Lynn said he would see one, maybe two, overdue decisions statewide in a given month. Now it’s an average of five to 10.

“We think 60 days is a reasonable period of time for decisions to get out,” Lynn said. “Unfortunately, the result of not having enough judges is that all of the remaining judges are doing more and, of course, that pushes things back.”

The National Center for State Courts has determined 26 full-time judges are needed to effectively manage the state’s Superior Court caseload. The state Legislature has authorized 22 judgeships, the statutory minimum.

One resignation and two retirements have dropped the number of active judges to 19 statewide. Gov. John H. Lynch’s 11-member Judicial Selection Commission is screening applicants and is expected to fill the three vacant slots in December.

Cheshire County Superior Court will not be getting any new judges because the state says it is adequately staffed, at least in comparison to the needs of other courts, such as Hillsborough County Superior Court South in Nashua.

“This court should have one more full-time judge, and that judge has not been appointed,” said Nashua Clerk Marshall A. Buttrick. “Under the weighted caseload, we also should have two more clerical staffers than we have now.”

Judge decisions in at least four cases were overdue this month, Buttrick said. He said there are four full-time judges at his court.

Hillsborough County Superior Court North in Manchester, which also has four full-time judges, but no vacancies on the bench, has had no overdue decisions this month, according to Clerk John M. Safford.

Clerical staff shortages, though, have been bogging down the processing of the decisions, he said.

“After the judge enters the decision into the record and gives it to our office, it may take two to four weeks for us to actually mail that decision because of a processing backlog,” Safford said. “I’d definitely like to get a couple of extra clerical hands, but vacancies are being kept open to stay within budget guidelines.”

The state’s judicial system has plenty of company in being saddled with a skintight budget and great demands, Lynn said. He said it’s just another sign of the times.

“The Legislature is not singling out the court system. They have treated us very well over the last several years,” he said. “There is a statewide budget problem and I don’t think we’re any worse off than any other state agency.”

Clerical staffers and judges understand the problem, Hogan said, but that doesn’t prevent them from getting burned out.

“I have a great concern because the longer this goes on, the more tired people get. There’s a cumulative effect to working at this pace without interruption,” she said. “It could push employees to look for something else or to retire. If you’ve got people coming in every day complaining in very loud voices, it can be pretty challenging.”

The challenge is on both sides of the glass.

Waiting for months for an answer and still not knowing whether she’ll be able to spend more than two hours a week with her daughter and talk about something other than the furniture in the room has been downright excruciating, Carpenter said.

“It’s been long and drawn out, but I’m practicing my patience,” she said. “I just have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s really hard times right now.”

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Sentinel Staff
The Keene Sentinel: July 29, 2008
CHARLESTOWN — The Charlestown man who was gunned down during an altercation with police had a criminal history that spanned more than three decades and included convictions for stealing guns and robbing an elderly woman at knifepoint.

And his son, who police had apparently come for the night of the shooting, was also no stranger to the criminal justice system.

While arresting 26-year-old Jesse Jarvis on a probation violation Saturday, authorities said they learned that his father, Anthony “Tony” Jarvis Sr., had a weapon and was a felon, which is a crime.

Anthony Jarvis, 53, was subsequently killed in a hail of police gunfire when he refused to leave a camper on a friend’s property at 60 Summer St. in Charlestown, and a state police trooper suffered non-life-threatening injuries during the shootout, authorities said.

One police bullet pierced Jarvis’ right leg, two went into his “trunk” and multiple bullets left superficial wounds on his body, according to Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jennie V. Duval.

Final autopsy results will not be released for another four to six weeks, pending toxicology results.

Keene-based N.H. State Police Trooper Phillip Gaiser, a 10-year veteran, was shot during the incident and remains in stable condition at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane E. Young said in a statement released Monday evening.

Citing an active investigation, Young has not said who fired the first shot or exactly where Gaiser was hit.

Meantime, Jesse Jarvis is being held in an isolation unit at the N.H. State Prison in Concord, according to John F. Eckert, executive assistant to the parole board.

“He’s been on isolation watch in health services,” Eckert said. “I believe he saw his father get killed. I believe he was in some kind of distress over that.”

Jesse Jarvis’ first documented run-in with the law occurred in October 1999 when he was 18.

He was drunk when he stole a pack of blank cassettes and film from a K-Mart in Claremont and struggled with a security guard, Sullivan County Superior Court documents show.

He was taken to the Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont after the incident, and tried to escape by climbing into the bathroom ceiling.

He was sentenced to two to seven years in prison after violating probation twice on two charges of robbery and attempted escape stemming from the incidents at the store and the hospital.

He served five years and one month of the sentence because he was unable to complete substance abuse programs in prison and another inmate accused him of assault.

A judge released Jesse Jarvis from prison in November 2004.

“In the meny (sic) years of my incarceration I have grown from a child to the man I am today,” he wrote in a letter to the court asking for an early release.

“I have learned how to live with the tests of staying clean in a environment where I’m forced to constently (sic) be around drugs such as heroin and prison made alcohol,” he wrote. “I know today I’m strong enough to enter the real world as a man.”

Nearly three months after his release from prison, Jesse Jarvis was arrested on a charge of simple assault for kicking, punching and spitting at Claremont police officers who were trying to stop a fight between Jarvis and another man, court documents show.

He began serving a two- to five-year prison sentence in July 2005 and was released on parole June 26, 2008, according to Jeffrey J. Lyons, spokesman for the N.H. Department of Corrections.

Within a week of his release, he walked away from a state-run substance abuse treatment program in Manchester and was listed as a fugitive from justice.

A warrant for his arrest was issued July 8, Lyons said.

The parole board has up to 45 days to schedule a parole revocation hearing, which will likely be held in late August. The board could decide to impose the remainder of Jesse Jarvis’ sentence, which means he could remain in prison until Jan. 31, 2010.

Like his son, Anthony Jarvis was a young man when he had his first brush with the law.

In February 1973, when he was 17, he stole $37 from the Goodwin Community Center in Claremont.

He later pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and larceny tied to the incident, court documents show.

A week after the community center break-in, he broke into Marson’s Store, also in Claremont, and stole six handguns, two binoculars and 17 boxes of ammunition.

He also admitted to committing the latter crime and served eight months in the Sullivan House of Corrections, where he forcibly stole jail keys from the jailor and was charged with theft.

He was convicted in June 1974 of burglarizing the Claremont Pharmacy and was sent to prison the next month, where he stayed until January 1975, when he was released on parole, said Lyons, the prison spokesman.

While on parole, he robbed an elderly woman of $60 at knife-point, pleaded guilty to the crime and was sent back to prison in October 1975. He was paroled three years later, Lyons said.

The last time Anthony Jarvis had contact with the state prison system was in 2000, when he received two years probation for being a felon in possession of a gun. During a domestic dispute, his wife, Lisa Jarvis, told Claremont police that he’d buried two pistols in their backyard.

Family members and friends said Anthony Jarvis turned his life around after his last conviction and had been counseling troubled youths.

“A lot of people don’t know him,” Mike Beaulieu, who grew up with Anthony Jarvis, told the Associated Press. “They read about the bad stuff, but he had a lot of good in him.”

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Naples Daily News: Jan. 26, 2007

Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa were ridiculed, their flesh was carved and bleach was poured onto their faces and open wounds during the hours leading up to their deaths, according to more than 400 pages of chilling court documents released Thursday.

The Sosas suffered through hours of torture before they were shot to death in a remote Cape Coral industrial park and burned beyond recognition, the State Attorney’s Office revealed.

Detectives learned from cell phone records and interviews with numerous witnesses that 18-year-old Alexis and his 14-year-old nephew, Jeffrey, attended an Oct. 6 party at a duplex home on 2124 N.E. Eighth Place, where they were ambushed by a group of armed youths.

Police have linked the Sosas’ alleged killers to a local gang and rap recording group known as the “Cash Feenz.”

The nine suspects — Kemar Johnston, 21, Kenneth Lopez, 18, Alexis Fernandez, 19, Cody Roux, 18, Paul Nuñes, 18, Roderick Washington, 17, Melissa Rivera, 20, Ashley Toye, 18 and Iriana Santos, 16 — are each charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

The State Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty against all six of the adult suspects. Toye, Washington and Santos were underage at the time of the crime and face life in prison.

Witness statements to detectives indicate that an inflammatory message Alexis recorded on the cellular phone of one of the suspects ignited the violence.

The documents released Thursday tell the following tale of the night’s events:

Partygoers began punching and kicking the Sosas after hearing the message.

As the beating went on, Johnston reportedly stated, “You done tried too many people in this area, see how many people you tried in this house, you ain’t going home tonight.”

One of the partygoers punched Alexis with such force that his gold teeth were knocked to the floor. When Johnston was arrested Oct. 26 in Miami, police reportedly discovered gold teeth in a duffel bag in his hotel room.

DNA testing to determine whether the teeth belong to Alexis is ongoing.

Alexis pleaded for his life.

At one point he said, “please stop, please don’t do it.”

Johnston’s response was, “don’t say no … you ain’t going home tonight,” states the report.

After being bound with shoelaces, Johnston reportedly told Alexis to “hit the last cigarette you’re gonna hit, drink the last taste of liquor you’re gonna drink.”

Another underage witness said she could hear Alexis screaming in pain as he was being burned with cigarettes.

“While Alexis was tied up, Washington sat next to him pointing a handgun at him and poured bleach on Alexis’ face,” the witness reportedly said.

Alexis was screaming, praying and speaking in gibberish as the torture continued.

The female members of the group, known as “Cash Queenz,” and Johnston carved initials into Alexis’ back, according to one witness.

Jeffrey jumped on top of Alexis in an attempt to protect his uncle and was subsequently kicked and punched.

The Sosas were eventually loaded into the trunk of Fernandez’s Ford sedan and driven to a North Cape Coral industrial park, where the suspects took turns firing bullets into Alexis.

Johnston then asked Jeffrey if he wanted to leave the industrial park and go home, according to witness statements.

“Jeffrey told him, ‘yes’ and as he began walking away Johnston told him to wait, and when Jeffrey turned around, Johnston shot him in the head.”

Firefighters discovered the Sosas in their scorched Lexus coupe Oct. 7.

An autopsy later determined that Jeffrey was shot seven times and that Alexis was so severely burned that he was unidentifiable.

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“He seemed to believe his wife was poisoning him,” said Michael O’Brien, 46, who regularly walked his dog with Rodriguez in Horton Park. “He kept repeating himself. He wasn’t eating at home. He just wasn’t the same guy we all knew.”

Everyone who knew Rodriguez knew him as “Pappy,” the neighborhood watchdog who patrolled his street on foot and picked up the newspapers left in snowbirds’ driveways in the summer months when their homes were vacant.

“He was the guy you trusted with everything. He would always walk up and down the street checking on peoples’ homes,” said Jeff Canevari, a friend and neighbor of Rodriguez for two and a half years.

Rodriguez spent his days as an auxiliary officer for the Cape Coral Police Department’s volunteer Marine Unit. A private boat docked behind his home at 2317 S.E. 27th St. in the quiet neighborhood of Gulf Coast Estates still bore a placard declaring his former status with the CCPD.

Rodriguez had an extensive gun collection and was usually armed, according to neighbors and friends.

“He always had a gun with him,” said O’Brien. “For as long as I knew him, he always carried a gun.”

During a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon, hours before he was arrested and charged with second-degree homicide, Rodriguez said he’d spoken with detectives and they had agreed to let him put his 75-year-old wife, Wanda Rodriguez, to rest before he was taken into custody. Her funeral was scheduled Friday morning, he said.

Joseph Rodriguez said he was “confused” and declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death.

He told police that he’d called 911 after finding his wife’s body on the morning of June 27, according to an incident report. Wanda Rodriguez was lying on her bedroom floor. She had been shot in the head, a gun was lying near her body and there was a large amount of blood, authorities said.

Joseph Rodriguez reportedly said he last checked on his wife at about 2 a.m. and she was sleeping. Detectives believed the death was “suspicious in nature” and notified the forensics unit, according to the report.

Authorities determined Joseph Rodriguez was responsible for his wife’s death six days after the incident. Cape investigators made the arrest after reviewing forensic evidence with the Lee County Medical Examiner’s Office and State Attorney’s Office, said police spokeswoman Dyan Lee.

Joseph Rodriguez began acting strangely shortly after the death of his dog, “Max,” who succumbed to throat cancer about a month ago, said O’Brien.

“He was a really decent old man, just recently he’s gone downhill mentally,” he said, “but losing that dog was a big hurt on him.”

Max’s death also took its toll on Wanda Rodriguez, who walked the dog every evening with her husband, said Canevari.

“She used to always be out walking the dog,” he said, “but when the dog died we didn’t see her as much. They were both nuts about that dog.”

Canevari said his wife and two children wept as they watched police lead Joseph Rodriguez away from his home in handcuffs.

“We all loved him,” he said. “It’s disgusting. Who knows what goes on inside somebody’s head?”

A judge denied Joseph Rodriguez bond and he remains in the Lee County Jail.

Wanda Rodriguez’s death marks the sixth homicide in Cape Coral this year, tying the highest number in recorded city history. There have been three shooting deaths, two fatal beatings and one stabbing.

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A Cape Coral octogenarian fired a bullet into his wife’s temple as she lay in bed, then moved her body after the killing, stashed bloody pieces of evidence and staged the crime scene before dialing 911, according to an arrest report.

Joseph Rodriguez, 82, denied tampering with evidence. He said his wife was fine when she went to bed June 26 and he found her dead in a pool of blood the next morning, according to officer Thomas Rall’s report.

While Rodriquez told authorities his wife, Wanda Rodriguez, 75, committed suicide, forensic evidence found inside the elderly couple’s Cape Coral home at 2317 S.E. 27th St. pointed to foul play. He was arrested six days after the incident and charged with second-degree homicide.

Officers and paramedics discovered Wanda Rodriguez lying on her back on her bedroom floor after Joseph Rodriguez called emergency dispatchers at about 7:30 a.m. Blood stains on the top of her bed and bloody prints on her ankles indicated her body had been moved, according to the report.

“The victim was found on the floor and it is clear the victim was moved from the original location on the bed to the floor,” wrote Rall. “Blood evidence shows the body had been moved several times.”

Dr. Barbara Wolfe of the Lee County Medical Examiner’s Office determined during an autopsy that Wanda Rodriguez’s injuries would have instantly rendered her immobile, and emergency personnel on scene said they had not moved the body, according to the report.

The medical examiner concluded suicide was an impossibility and ruled the case a homicide, the report states.

Rall said he found a gun that had been wiped down with a bloody cloth lying under the bed near Wanda Rodriguez’s body and a dried blood smear left by a glove on the night stand.

Joseph Rodriguez reportedly said he’d given his wife the gun four years ago, when they began sleeping in different rooms at opposite ends of their home. Wanda Rodriguez’s daughter and friends later told authorities she never owned a gun and intentionally avoided them.

A glass of water and Wanda Rogriguez’s eyeglasses had been placed on top of the dried blood on her night stand, and Joseph Rodriguez’s fingerprints were lifted from the glass, according to the report.

“No blood was found on the glass at all indicating that the glass had been put on the table after removal of the gloves as an act of staging,” wrote Rall. “Dried blood was found under the glass.”

Investigators also found a pair of cloth gloves soaking in a can of bleach under a workbench in the garage. Rall said one of the gloves later tested positive for blood. A pair of blood-spattered shorts was also tucked away in the bottom of a garage cabinet and there was a blood smear on the front bumper of Wanda Rodriguez’s car, which was parked next to the workbench, according to Rall.

Joseph Rodriguez told Rall he never heard a gunshot during the night and that two air conditioning units at his home may have drowned out the sound.

When asked about the glass of water and eyeglasses placed on the dried blood on his wife’s nightstand, he denied touching anything.

“A short time later, Mr. Rodriguez requested an attorney and all questioning ceased,” wrote Rall. “Mr. Rodriguez then stood up to exit the interview and stated that, ‘I know you know I did it.’”

A judge denied Joseph Rodriguez bond and he remains in the Lee County Jail. His attorney did not return calls seeking comment Monday.


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The U.S. government several years ago tried to deport a registered sex offender who now is accused of murder, but the Cuban government refused to cooperate with immigration officials, immigration officials said Monday.

Ronnie Perez is accused of fatally stabbing a Cape Coral man last month.

Perez, 26, was convicted in the sexual assault of an underage victim in 2001 and released from state prison after serving a 20-month sentence. He was then turned over to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Miami.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials obtained a judge’s signature on a final order of removal against Perez while he was in prison, said ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez.

“We did attempt to remove Perez to Cuba, however the Cuban government refused to issue a travel document,” she said. “We were required by law to release Perez.”

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme court ruled illegal immigrants could not be detained for more than 90 days if there is little chance they will be deported in the foreseeable future.

Perez was living in Cape Coral as an unemployed granite installer when he repeatedly stabbed William Lowell, 36, during an argument May 22, authorities said. He remains in the Lee County Jail on a charge of second-degree homicide.

The Cuban government often refuses to cooperate with U.S. immigration agencies, said Gonzalez, adding that she could not speculate whether Perez’s criminal history influenced the decision to refuse a travel document.

“It is difficult to deport to Cuba, but not impossible,” she said. “The case doesn’t just go away after the person is released. We continue to assess those orders. We don’t drop everything.”

Perez completed a three-year probationary period April 2006 and continued to follow additional release conditions imposed by ICE, which required him to report to the agency’s local detention and removal office, said Gonzalez.

“Although we were required to release Perez, we took an extra step of imposing conditions on his release. He was on an order of supervision and he did follow those orders,” said Gonzalez, who could not provide details regarding Perez’s post-release conditions Monday.

Lowell’s wife, Tanya Lowell, said she was shocked to learn of Perez’s illegal status but declined to comment on the issue. She continues to search for answers in her husband’s death, questioning why her husband was with Perez and what the two men were arguing about that night.

Authorities have remained tight-lipped.

“They’re (CCPD) not telling me anything,” Lowell said Monday. “This is really draining me. I seem to be getting more information from the newspapers.”

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