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Witness in murder trial recalls couple at Lackawanna cemetery before woman’s body was found

Michael and Patricia Rodriguez got out of a car on Dorrance Avenue and went into a Lackawanna cemetery early on Good Friday morning in 1979, hours before her body was found there with 108 stab wounds, a witness testified Tuesday at Michael Rodriguez’s murder trial.

Edward J. Murphy Jr. said he had been surprised to see the estranged couple sitting and talking in Danny Boy’s bar in Lackawanna while he was there from about 10 p.m. April 12, 1979, until he left at about 2:30 a.m. April 13, 1979.

As he started walking home, he said he saw the Rodriguezes across the street from the bar talking to each other in an assertive manner, although he could not hear what they were saying. It appeared they were not getting along, he said.

About 15 to 30 minutes later, as he walked down Dorrance along Holy Cross Cemetery toward McKinley Parkway, he said a car drove by and stopped about 300 to 400 feet from him. He saw the Rodriguezes get out and walk across the street into the cemetery.

He said the car drove away, and he continued on home, where he lived with his mother, arriving at about 4 a.m.

The next morning, Murphy told his mother he had seen the Rodriguezes, both of whom he knew from South Buffalo, at the bar. He told her he had never seen them there before during his Thursday night visits to the bar to dance.

But the weirdest thing he saw was them going into the cemetery, he told his mother.

Later that day, when he learned the 21-year-old victim’s body had been found in the cemetery, Murphy said his mother insisted he call police. He called and said he had information about the killing, he said, but no one from the department contacted him.

When the State Police opened a cold-case investigation into the 1979 slaying 30 years later, an investigator contacted him, and he gave a statement Aug. 26, 2009, about what he had seen that night.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr., Murphy said he had about four or five iced tea and vodka drinks during his 4½ hours in Danny Boy’s and that he was “buzzed.”

He acknowledged that the man and woman who got out of the car were at least a football field away when he saw them, that he didn’t see their faces and that it was dark. He heard nothing when he walked by the entrance where they had gone into the cemetery.

He also acknowledged an inconsistency in his statement to the State Police and his later grand jury testimony. He told police he saw a friend of his in the car but told the grand jury he wasn’t sure it was his friend.

Murphy told Assistant Attorney General Diane M. LaVallee that certain things about that evening stood out as unusual in his mind, including seeing the estranged Rodriguezes in that bar for the first time and seeing them go into the cemetery.

“Because she was found dead the next day in the cemetery, I remembered everything from the night before,” he said.

Another witness, Dennis R. Bump, foreman of Holy Cross Cemetery, testified that he found the victim’s body about 8:30 a.m. April 13, 1979, as he drove around the cemetery checking the grounds.

He saw the body in the St. Joseph Garden section, about 60 yards from the entrance on Dorrance. The victim was not wearing shoes, but he saw some shoes on the grass nearby. He said she had an angry look on her face. The ground around her was dug up as if there had been a fight, he said, and there were slits in her shirt.

Upset by what he saw, he ran across the street, banged on the door of one home and asked the resident to call police.

The trial continues today before a jury and Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico.

Michael Rodriguez, 60, was indicted last November.

email: jstaas@buffnews.com