DNA evidence cited in 1979 Lackawanna slaying - The Buffalo News

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DNA evidence cited in 1979 Lackawanna slaying

Michael Rodriguez’s semen was detected on his former wife’s clothing after she was found fatally stabbed 108 times in a Lackawanna cemetery 35 years ago, according to testimony Thursday at a pretrial hearing.

And her blood was found on his leather jacket.

Dr. John P. Simich, head of the Erie County Central Police Services Forensic Lab, testified about some of the DNA evidence that led to last year’s murder indictment of the 60-year-old defendant in the 1979 slaying of his estranged wife, Patricia.

Simich said testing last year found DNA matching the defendant’s in a semen stain on the victim’s black body suit.

Testing in 2009 of dried red stains on a leather jacket that state prosecutors say belonged to the defendant found DNA matching that of the victim, Simich said.

Simich said that no one ever asked the lab to test the jacket from 1993, when the lab first started doing DNA testing, until 2009 when the State Police submitted the jacket for testing after reopening the investigation.

The testimony came at the hearing on a motion by defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. to dismiss the indictment because of what he calls unreasonable delay in charging his client in the death of the 21-year-old woman, whose body was found April 13, 1979, in Holy Cross Cemetery.

Rodriguez, who has remarried, was arrested last November at his home on Pries Avenue in South Buffalo after he was indicted on murder charges. He is being held without bail.

The trial is scheduled for Oct. 14 before Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico.

Cambria says the delay hinders his client’s ability to defend himself since people’s memory about the events has lapsed after 35 years and some potential defense witnesses have died.

He also contends that the case could have been pursued earlier, arguing that the DNA testing could have been done back in the 1990s and that the investigation could have been reopened before 2009.

Cambria said the leather jacket had been sitting in an evidence box at the Lackawanna police station before State Police Senior Investigator Christopher S. Weber found it and had it tested for DNA.

He said one witness, Edward Murphy, could have been interviewed earlier.

Assistant State Attorney General Diane M. LaVallee said the delay is explainable, noting that the indictment included information obtained only last October, that the crime lab did seven reports on DNA testing in the case from 2009 to 2013 and that investigators worked on checking out and eliminating other suspects in the case.

The judge reserved decision on Cambria’s motion to dismiss the indictment and on his other motions to suppress the defendant’s statement to police and other evidence.

Murphy testified Thursday that he called Lackawanna police after the victim’s body was found and told them he had information about the killing.

He said he had been in Danny Boy’s bar where Rodriguez was seen with his estranged wife hours before her body was found and that he had walked by the cemetery on his way home where he lived with his mother.

Murphy said that he left his phone number with police but that no one called him back. He moved away to attend college and work, he said, but his mother still lived there, and the phone number had not changed.

He said he didn’t hear from authorities until two summers ago when Weber contacted him about the case.

Murphy allegedly saw Rodriguez and the victim in the cemetery after they left the bar.

Weber testified Thursday that he was assigned the cold case by his supervisor in January 2009. He said he interviewed Donna Williams. He testified that she was no longer providing an alibi for the defendant as she had initially and that she told him about admissions that the defendant allegedly made.

The investigator testified that he also interviewed a man who witnesses said had told them that he killed Patricia Rodriguez. He said he ruled out the man as a suspect.

Cambria asked Weber whether he interviewed a witness who said that man had the victim’s personal effects the day after the slaying. Weber said he interviewed that witness recently.

The defense attorney also asked Weber about the report and the slides from the autopsy on the victim, including a slide with semen on it. Weber said he tried to get the slides from Erie County Medical Center but was told they had been destroyed. He said he did not know when.

Lewis R. Barone, a private investigator hired by Cambria, testified he tried to locate three witnesses who claimed that the man Weber ruled out as a suspect told them he killed Patricia Rodriguez. Two of them had died, he said, and the third could not be located.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com

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