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MAN, 81, FOUND GUILTY OF TRYING TO BURN WOMAN TO DEATH

Visibly shaken, Emma H. Chapman listened to the Niagara County district attorney Friday recount how close she had come to death at the hands of Otes Rodriguez last May.

An hour later, a jury of four men and eight women found Rodriguez, 81, of Niagara Falls, guilty of attempted murder, fourth-degree arson and third-degree weapons possession.

Rodriguez tried to kill Chapman, 54, by dousing her with gasoline and igniting the gas with a flare gun May 5 at Rainbow Property Management in Niagara Falls. Rodriguez was angry over being evicted that day, according to District Attorney Matthew J. Murphy.

"He spent hours planning her death and carefully looking at rifles," Murphy said in his closing argument, which came after four days of testimony. "He was foiled in his attempt to purchase a rifle and went to things at hand -- gasoline. He then purchased three flares at Wal-Mart.

"Imagine the type of death if his plans to incinerate her had been successful. I submit that it was his intent to kill."

After the verdict, Chapman said she and her husband had planned to leave the area if Rodriguez had been acquitted. She said she was sure Rodriguez -- who already spent time in prison for killing his wife and, later, a girlfriend -- would have tried again.

"I was so nervous. After he finished the sentence for killing his wife, he got out and killed his girlfriend the very next day. I feel sure he would have come back (to me) and finished what he started," Chapman said.

She said she was saved by customers who came in right behind Rodriguez and gave her time to duck.

"I saw the fire ball go right by me," she said.

Chapman's husband, Jerry, had served eviction notices to Rodriguez, who rented several garages from the Chapmans and had been using the space to house dogs.

Prosecutors said Rodriguez tried to buy a gun at Wal-Mart two days before the attack, but was stopped because a federally mandated background check disclosed his previous felonies.

But those past felonies -- manslaughter convictions in Buffalo for killing his wife in 1959 and his girlfriend in 1973 -- were not allowed into evidence.

Chapman said she and her husband had no idea of those convictions when they rented to Rodriguez.

Assistant Public Defender Anthony Catalano questioned the motives, Chapman's testimony, actions by police and the fact that the assailant wore a mask and goggles.

Murphy countered that Chapman had known Rodriguez for 10 years, and knew the way he carried himself, his stature and the way he walked.

Police arrested Rodriguez shortly after the attack as he was walking away from a dumpster and carrying a machete. In the dumpster, police found a dark jacket, and in the jacket pockets were goggles, a flare gun and flares.

A sentencing date is set for June 17. .

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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