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Cold-case killer Michael Rodriguez dead in apparent prison suicide

Michael Rodriguez, who escaped justice for more than 35 years after stabbing his wife to death in a Lackawanna cemetery in 1979, apparently took his own life Tuesday morning in an Auburn prison cell, three sources with knowledge of his death told The Buffalo News.

Rodriguez, 61, died at Auburn Correctional Facility, and prison officials are looking into the circumstances of his death, the state Department of Corrections and Community Services confirmed Tuesday.

It appeared that Rodriguez committed suicide, according to three sources. One source said he hanged himself.

Rodriguez recently was transferred out of Attica Correctional Facility and was temporarily placed at Auburn until he could be permanently relocated to Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, according to a source with contacts in the state prison system.

“I wanted him to spend the whole 25 years in prison. I’m really disappointed. You know he tried to commit suicide years ago when he was young,” said Patricia A. Scinta, the mother of his victim. “He took the coward’s way out.”

Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr. and his predecessor, Dennis J. O’Hara, had asked State Police to reopen the cold case. “It’s the ending to a tragic incident that went on for a long time,” Michel said.

There do not appear to be any signs of foul play in Rodriguez’s death, according to three sources with knowledge of his death. Two sources are in law enforcement, and the third has knowledge of the prison system.

Rodriguez was serving a sentence of 25 years to life. He was convicted of second-degree murder in the slaying of Patricia Scinta Rodriguez, 21, who had two children with him. Her body with 108 stab wounds was found sprawled across a flat gravestone in Lackawanna’s Holy Cross Cemetery early on Good Friday morning April 13, 1979.

Rodriguez had met her earlier at nearby Danny Boy’s bar and went to the cemetery, authorities said.

Police had long suspected that Rodriguez was her killer, but prosecutors felt they did not have enough evidence to prove their case in court.

Rodriguez had remained free, remarrying and having two children with his new wife. He even made public comments that he hoped his late wife’s killer would be apprehended.

And during that time, four Erie County district attorneys, including Frank A. Sedita III, now a State Supreme Court justice-elect, declined to prosecute Rodriguez because of concerns over the evidence.

An assistant state attorney general, Diane M. LaVallee, took the case to trial after getting the go-ahead from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who reviewed new evidence that State Police obtained. State Police reopened the cold case in 2009 and obtained scientific evidence through technology that had not existed at the time of the slaying. The evidence included the detection of DNA from the victim’s blood on Rodriguez’s jacket.

In addition, State Police Investigator Christopher S. Weber re-interviewed witnesses and a cellmate of Rodriguez’s after he had been indicted and arrested in 2013.

A former girlfriend and the cellmate testified at the trial that Rodriguez admitted to killing his wife. He was convicted in October 2014, and at sentencing last December, LaVallee pointed out that it took the jury less than three hours to convict him.

In a 2004 interview with The Buffalo News, Rodriguez said that he was distraught about his wife’s slaying and wanted the killer caught. He said he and his wife never had any “bad animosity” but that they were legally separated.

“It’s a loss,” Rodriguez had said of his wife’s death. “It’s something always in your heart.”

In reflecting Tuesday on what Rodriguez had said, Scinta remarked, “He should have been careful for what he wished for. I’m sure my daughter was waiting for him, wanting to know, ‘Why, Michael?’ ”