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Testimony cites 108 stab wounds in ’79 Lackawanna victim

Patricia Rodriguez bled to death after she was stabbed 108 times, including 84 times in the back, more than 35 years ago in a Lackawanna cemetery, Erie County’s chief medical examiner testified Wednesday at Michael Rodriguez’s murder trial.

The stab wounds were 4 to 4½ inches deep, and nearly half of them penetrated the 21-year-old victim’s vital organs, said Dr. Tara J. Mahar, citing an autopsy report by Dr. Judith M. Lehotay, who was chief medical examiner at the time of the April 13, 1979, slaying.

The 53 wounds to the vital organs included 49 to the lungs, Mahar said, while the rest penetrated the spleen, liver and kidneys.

Patricia Rodriguez also was stabbed in the chest, arms and left hip and thigh, but none of the wounds penetrated her heart, Mahar said.

She also suffered bruises on her face, neck, right hip and below her thumb.

The toxicology portion of the report showed phencyclidine, also known as PCP or angel dust, in her urine, but not her blood, Mahar said, and there was scarring in the crook of her arm, with some puncture marks, including several that were recent.

Michael Rodriguez, 60, was indicted last November on charges of killing his estranged wife and mother of their two children after prosecutors said they met at a Lackawanna bar on the night of April 12, 1979, and went to Holy Cross Cemetery early the next morning.

The indictment came after State Police in 2009 began a cold-case investigation into the Good Friday 1979 slaying at the request of Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr.

State Police Investigator Christopher S. Weber who led the investigation took a second look at forensic evidence found in the cemetery, used scientific technology that did not exist at the time of the slaying and reinterviewed witnesses.

DNA testing in 2009 showed that four dried bloodstains on the inside of the brown leather jacket that Michael Rodriguez was wearing the night of the fatal attack matched the victim’s DNA, a forensic biologist said Wednesday during the jury trial before Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico.

Thomas Grill of the Erie County Central Police Services lab also testified that DNA testing he conducted last year detected the defendant’s DNA on the black bodysuit that the victim wore that night.

Paul J. Cambria Jr., Rodriguez’s attorney, says his client had consensual sex with Patricia Rodriguez, accounting for the defendant’s DNA on her clothes.

But the defense attorney contends that DNA testing on the bloodstains is unreliable because it was conducted 30 years after the jacket was seized as evidence and because authorities might have mixed the jacket with the victim’s bloody clothing.

Cambria is expected to cross-examine Grill on the DNA testing when the trial resumes today.

Weber testified Wednesday that during his cold-case investigation he went through all five boxes of evidence that Lackawanna police had gathered in the case and that he had it tested at the Central Police Services lab.

He acknowledged that the defendant’s jacket was in the same evidence box as the victim’s bloody black top, but he told Assistant Attorney General Diane M. LaVallee that he found no contamination on the jacket from any other piece of evidence.

He also testified that the jacket and the bloody top were wrapped separately, each in its own paper evidence bag.