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Prosecutors will be allowed to tell the jury that Otes G. Rodriguez tried to buy a rifle the day before authorities say he doused a Niagara Falls woman with gasoline and ignited it with a flare gun.

But they can't bring up Rodriguez's two manslaughter convictions unless he takes the stand himself, and maybe not even then.

Niagara County Judge Peter L. Broderick Sr. laid down those ground rules Thursday for the April 11 trial.

Rodriguez, 81, of Main Street, Niagara Falls, is charged with attempted murder, fourth-degree arson and third-degree weapons possession.

He is accused of entered the office of Rainbow Property Management on Main Street last May 5 and dousing Emma H. Chapman, 54, with gasoline. Others in the office put out the fire that erupted with the discharge of the flare gun.

Six days before the attack, Chapman's husband had evicted Rodriguez from rental property.

Assistant District Attorney Charles F. Pitarresi told Broderick that Rodriguez had told Chapman in April that she might be visited by a man wearing a mask and gloves who wouldn't be identifiable on her store security camera.

"And what happens? Within two weeks, a man comes in, masked and gloved, and tries to murder her," District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy III chimed in. He said the security camera was a fake, but Rodriguez probably didn't know that.

Murphy said prosecution witnesses will include an employee of the Niagara Falls Wal-Mart, who will testify that she prevented Rodriguez from buying a rifle May 4 because a federally mandated background check disclosed his previous felonies.

Rodriguez shot his wife to death in 1959 and beat his girlfriend to death in 1973, both in Buffalo.

Murphy said a Wal-Mart receipt for flares was found in Rodriguez's car. "He tries to buy a gun, he can't, so buys the next best thing, a flare gun and a can of gasoline," the prosecutor said.

Broderick said new state court rulings might bar any use of the manslaughter convictions in the trial. But if they were allowed, they could be used only on cross-examination if Rodriguez testifies. The Wal-Mart witness can say only that Rodriguez was barred from buying a gun; she can't say why.


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