Mosaic of a Murder
At 4:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22, the jury empaneled in the case of State of Florida v. Raul Rodriguez returned a verdict. It was nothing like in the movies.
The jurors had deliberated just four hours, including lunch, but they looked cranky and out of sorts as they filed into the jury box. Anita Rowden, a matronly switchboard operator, wore sunglasses to mask red, puffy eyes. Clarence Mills, Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force mechanic, glared at the ceiling. Mark Laney, at 37 the youngest juror, refused to look beyond his shoes.
The defendant, accused of first-degree murder and twelve other counts stemming from a 1991 robbery at Malaga Restaurant in Little Havana, sat motionless beside his court-appointed lawyer as thirteen slips of paper were passed from the jury foreman to the bailiff to Circuit Court Judge Fredricka G. Smith. Smith glanced at the slips dispassionately before handing them to a clerk, who read the same ruling into the official record thirteen times:
The words punctured Assistant State Attorney Nelson Rodriguez. With each pronouncement, his head sank deeper into his hands. The news, he knew, would not sit well with his trial partner, Flora Seff. Defense attorney David Peckins hugged his client and tried to thank the jurors as they left the room. For the first time during the five-day proceeding, Raul Rodriguez's stony face broke into a broad grin. By Monday the rumor making the rounds among Judge Smith's staff was that Rodriguez had laughed all the way out of the courthouse.
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The jury that acquitted him, by contrast, stepped into the muggy Miami rain and conveyed themselves home, condemned, along with the prosecutor, to a sleepless weekend spent brooding over doubts as indelible as the homemade tattoos on the defendant's arms.
I aimed so they would leave [my friend] so we could go, but at the moment I went to aim at them, a shot escaped me and I fired at a gentleman who was there. So then we left.
-- Raul Rodriguez's confession to Miami police
Of the words, at least, there is little doubt. They were recorded at 4:30 a.m. on May 29, 1991, in Sgt. Luis Albuerne's fifth-floor office at Miami police headquarters. The speaker was Raul Rodriguez, a prime suspect in the Malaga robbery. Also in the room were Albuerne, Det. Jose "Pepe" Granado, and a third officer.
"Do you swear under the eyes of God that all you are going to say is the truth?" Granado asked in Spanish. "The whole truth?"
Rodriguez, pale, slight, and perhaps a murderer, raised his right hand and swore.
In slangy Spanish he told Granado and his colleagues of a crime spree he had undertaken with two friends, Juan Betancourt and Ulises Carrazana, three nights earlier. They had hit a Farm Store first, Rodriguez said, nabbing $300 in cash, then had proceeded to Malaga, a bustling eatery on SW Eighth Street. They had entered the restaurant just before midnight, cased the establishment, and retreated to strategize. Armed with a handgun, he had returned with his friends to hold up the diners. When one patron refused to cooperate, Rodriguez recalled half an hour into his statement, "I raised my hand to point at him and I aimed at him and I hit him. I didn't think I had hit him, but I got him. I got him in the stomach."
Actually the victim, a 57-year-old native of Puerto Rico named Elaudio Santiago, had been shot through the heart.
Rodriguez was arrested; his mugshot was snapped and a photo lineup prepared. Seven eyewitnesses would later identify him as the man who shot Santiago.
I was laughing, the way we walked in there to get some money. We came out with shit. Shit, I was laughing at that. Then I remember, 'Damn, that old man got shot.' That's fucked up.
AUlises Carrazana's confession to Miami police
Judging by eyewitness accounts and statements made to police by all three alleged perpetrators, the crimes of May 25, 1991, were sloppily planned and executed, an amateurish debut in the big leagues of lawbreaking.
That night at Malaga, both dining rooms were full of middle-age couples decked out for Saturday night. Still more were packed into the restaurant's back room, where flamenco dancers clacked atop a small raised stage. Just before midnight, Malaga customers told police, three young men entered the restaurant flashing weapons and bellowing threats. Two of the men, one armed with a pistol, the other with a knife, herded patrons and staff into the back room; the third robber commandeered the stage, sawed-off shotgun in hand, and ordered everyone to surrender their belongings.
As the robbers began collecting the valuables, one customer picked up a water glass and threw it at the assailants, striking the man with the gun. A scuffle ensued, in which the patron was stabbed twice by the suspect armed with the knife, and shot by the man with the pistol. One other shot was fired, according to eyewitness accounts, when Amador Fernandez, Malaga's owner, attempted to intercede. That bullet missed. The two young men sprinted out of the restaurant, joining their shotgun-toting partner in a getaway car.
The robbery lasted barely fifteen minutes, half the time it took Elaudio Santiago to bleed to death from his bullet wound. The entire take: $45 in cash, plus a handful of jewelry. By the time City of Miami police arrived at Malaga, most of the terrified patrons had already fled.
On Monday, a day and a half after the robbery, police received an anonymous tip that the perpetrators were living in an apartment on SW Ninth Street, only a few blocks from Malaga. Detective Granado, the lead investigator assigned to the robbery, requested a SWAT entry, and the next night at 8:30 p.m. officers entered the apartment in a hail of shattered glass and broken hinges. Ulises Carrazana, eighteen, and Juan Betancourt, nineteen, were arrested on outstanding warrants. Police records indicate that eighteen-year-old Raul Rodriguez, the third suspect, agreed to come to the station to give a statement, as did his girlfriend Carmen Ruiz and her brother Carmelo.
During the next eight hours all three teens confessed on tape to the robberies committed two days earlier; Carmen and Carmelo Ruiz confirmed their accounts secondhand. Carrazana, who told police he had been armed with a sawed-off shotgun, also admitted to being cranked on cocaine that night. Betancourt, who said he had carried a knife, said he had primed himself with liquor. The trio's versions of the evening were remarkably consistent, with one exception: All three claimed the other two had pressured them into committing the Malaga heist.
Police, however, never located the weapons used in the robbery, nor any of the stolen items.
What I have done has been done out of necessity.
-- Raul Rodriguez's confession
According to court documents, Ulises Carrazana left a broken home at twelve, drifted from New Jersey to Miami, began taking drugs, and acquired a street name, "Zero," the letters of which he inked across the knuckles of his left hand. His friend Juan Betancourt, a.k.a. "Chico," ditched school in fifth grade and spent his teenage years amassing an extensive criminal record. Carrazana stood more than six feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. Betancourt was a foot shorter and at least twenty pounds heavier. The discrepancy would prompt Malaga eyewitnesses to characterize them as "the tall one with the shotgun" and "the fat one with the knife." Blue-eyed and fair-skinned, Raul Rodriguez was identified as "the American-looking one," no slight irony given that he had arrived from Cuba with his mother and sister only three years earlier.
By May 1991 all three suspects had abandoned efforts at gainful employment. Betancourt and Carrazana had no permanent homes. From the time of the robbery until their arrest they stayed with Rodriguez and his girlfriend Carmen Ruiz, herself a runaway.
Police surveillance reports indicate that a day before the SWAT team broke in, Rodriguez and Ruiz were spotted leaving her apartment and taking a bus to Coral Gables, where they inquired about renting a new apartment, presumably planning to use the money from the May 25 robberies. Had it not been for the weekend's bloodshed, they might have been just another young couple hoping to move up in the world.
Police photographs snapped after the raid depict Ruiz, her back against a wall, staring off-camera and crying. She wears a dingy nightshirt; her thin legs are scabbed at the knee. She was later treated for a broken arm suffered during the chaotic SWAT entry. Another shot shows a dirty pot on the kitchen stove, beans and rice burned to its bottom. The next frame: a mattress overturned on ratty household effects, a blond baby doll lying atop the mess. No evidence of killers on the run, only pitiful bids at domesticity.
Other photos focus on scrawls of graffiti near Ruiz's apartment, likely an attempt to establish a link between the Malaga robbers and a "youth gang"; police subsequently labeled all three suspects as members of the "Boys of Brickell," an accusation echoed by reporters in the limited coverage the Malaga robbery received.
This tendency to classify young criminals as gang members, while conveniently skirting the issue of motive, yields a sense of certainty, projecting order onto the random hatreds of the streets. The Malaga suspects, however, did not mention any gang affiliation in their sworn confessions. What they did mention was the influence of a fourth accomplice, an older criminal who allegedly masterminded the robberies, recruited the participants, and drove the getaway car. When the night was over, this modern-day Fagin was purportedly disbursed his share of the take. Police were never able to nail down his involvement.
The murder of Elaudio Santiago was, in the parlance of tabloid TV, a "senseless killing," which is another way of saying that as far as the authorities were concerned, the crime had no motive.
Police couldn't care less about motive when it comes to senseless killings. Their job is to nail down the whos and hows, not the why. Judges and juries and attorneys don't have much use for motive, either. Motive transforms defendants into people. It lends contour to flatly delineated evil. It gums up the system.
Even the media fail to take a sustained interest. And for good reason. The issue of why a growing number of young human beings are driven to sociopathic outbursts is not one that lends itself to courtroom sound bites; it points to cultural crises far too sweeping and subversive for a family newspaper's narrow columns A to absent families, tattered safety nets, urban dislocation, and the money-grubbing that drives the American economy.
Raul Rodriguez was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and multiple counts of armed robbery. Though he confessed to the shooting, his accomplices were charged identically: Under Florida law all defendants are culpable if they were involved in the commission of a crime that results in a homicide. The three pleaded not guilty at arraignment, were taken to jail, and began the long wait for trial.
Rodriguez proved to be less patient than his fellow defendants. On August 15, 1991, he escaped from his cell in the Dade County Stockade. Nine months later he was apprehended by FBI agent Joseph Del Campo -- in Philadelphia -- when a police-record check revealed that he was wanted in Miami.
After signing a form waiving his constitutional right to remain silent, Rodriguez described to Del Campo his dramatic escape. How he and two fellow inmates had loosened the steel bars of their cell window by working broom handles between them, then heated a homemade knife with a candle and used the hot shiv to cut through the plexiglass. After breaking the final barrier, a pane of glass reinforced with wire mesh, the prisoners hopped the fence, extra pairs of pants providing armor against the barbed wire. Four days after the break Rodriguez was on a Greyhound to Pennsylvania.
The fugitive told Del Campo that he had been living under an assumed name and supporting himself by selling crack on the streets of Philadelphia. He also gave the FBI agent an account of the Malaga robbery. "Rodriguez said that there was one individual [the victim Santiago] whom he described as a 'Puerto Rican,' who refused to hand over his jewelry and money," Del Campo wrote in his summary of the April 1992 interview. "Santiago picked up a chair and struck Betancourt, bringing him to his knees, then broke a drinking glass and began advancing toward Rodriguez. Rodriguez raised the .32 caliber Beretta, pointing it at Santiago, and stated, 'Back off, man.' Rodriguez said at the same time he raised the weapon and issued the warning, the pistol discharged, apparently striking Santiago."
Pending his extradition to Miami, the prisoner was placed in the custody of the Philadelphia police. On June 10, 1992, while being moved from one cell to another, Rodriguez purportedly blurted a single anguished sentence to his escort, Det. Michael Cohen, who later gave Miami authorities a deposition. "'When you're seventeen or eighteen and you do something on the street, you don't think much about it,'" Cohen recalled Rodriguez saying. "But when you sit in jail as long as I have, you think and think about it. I had to kill that guy; he was beating my friend. I pointed the gun at him and had to kill him."
Each time he spoke to law enforcement officials about Elaudio Santiago's killing, Rodriguez framed the shooting as an act of self-defense. Though statements from several eyewitnesses contradict him on that point, police records indicate the murder victim had an extensive criminal past. Police records also show that at the time of Santiago's death, the U.S. Customs Service had a warrant out for his arrest. An autopsy revealed a chemical derivative commonly found in regular cocaine users and a blood-alcohol level well above the legal limit for driving.
In his condition, it is conceivable Santiago might have decided to face down the young interlopers, not realizing his bravado would endanger those around him, and not imagining the lifeless mess he would become in the process.
"So Raul went up to the man, pointed the gun to him, and so the man walk," Ulises Carrazana recounted in his taped confession to police. "Then Raul see the necklace. Raul went to snatch it off his neck. The old man had got pissed and threw the cup at Raul, and Raul moved and that's when Raul started shooting."
In early 1993 state prosecutors and the attorneys representing the three defendants in the Malaga robbery case agreed to "sever" Raul Rodriguez's case from that of Ulises Carrazana and Juan Betancourt. Rodriguez's alleged cohorts would be tried in one courtroom, but with separate juries. The decision was primarily a practical one: There was no way to squeeze three juries into one courtroom. There were other factors, too. Owing to Rodriguez's escape, his lawyer had been unable to prepare a defense. The Dade State Attorney's Office, meanwhile, had indicated that prosecutors might seek the death penalty for Rodriguez because he was alleged to have fired the fatal shot.
Carrazana and Betancourt went to trial in September 1993. Those proceedings lasted five days. Prosecutor Flora Seff called eighteen witnesses, primarily patrons who identified one or both of the defendants as the men who robbed them. Neither defendant testified in his own defense; this would have required disclosure of their criminal past. After two hours of deliberation the juries pronounced each defendant guilty on all thirteen counts.
"Betancourt laughed throughout the proceeding and gave his friend several high fives," Seff noted in a presentencing report. Judge Jeffrey Rosinek sentenced each man to life in prison, with 25 years mandatory before parole. Betancourt is appealing his conviction.
There was little to distinguish Rodriguez's trial, which took place six weeks ago, from those of his friends. The state's list of witnesses and exhibits was largely unchanged; the prosecution did, however, have the advantage of calling to the stand all three law enforcement officials to whom Rodriguez had confessed A Miami Police Det. Jose Granado, FBI Special Agent Joseph Del Campo, and Philadelphia Police Det. Michael Cohen A a procession supplemented by four eyewitnesses.
The defense offered only one witness, the defendant.
His key claims: He was innocent and had been coerced into supplying false confessions. The SWAT officers who had broken into his girlfriend's apartment beat him savagely, causing his head to swell. Later, at the Miami police station, Granado and two other officers had ordered him to fabricate his hourlong confession, under threat of further bodily harm. He was able to supply details of the Malaga robbery only because his friends had told him about it. FBI agent Del Campo had convinced him to repeat his bogus confession by threatening to arrest the man who was harboring him in Philadelphia.
In response to these assertions prosecutor Seff directed the jury to photos of Rodriguez taken shortly after the SWAT invasion, which revealed no visible signs that he had been beaten.
Defense attorney David Peckins used his closing argument to reinforce what he hoped would become the central doubt in the half-dozen jurors' minds: the dearth of physical evidence linking Rodriguez to the crime. If Rodriguez robbed Malaga, Peckins asked rhetorically, why were none of his client's fingerprints found at the site A not even on live .32 caliber bullet rounds later found by police in Malaga? Why had prosecutors produced no murder weapon, no loot? And if 80 Malaga customers saw Rodriguez wielding his gun, Peckins demanded, why had the state only been able to call four who could identify him? And of those four, why had only one had been able to choose him, with no doubts, from the original photo lineup? Not even Malaga proprietor Amador Fernandez, at whom his client had allegedly fired from a few feet away, could identify Rodriguez in the May 1991 photo lineup, Peckins scoffed.
It was an impressive job, but as the jury was dismissed to deliberate, Seff and partner Nelson Rodriguez were sharing the same silent prediction: conviction.
In the past two decades, as attorneys have employed ever more elaborate methods of defending their clients, the once intuitive job of culling a jury has spawned a cottage industry: jury consultants. Legal journals contain advertisements trumpeting the expertise of these wizards, who purportedly possess the psychological savvy to zero in on jurors inclined to look favorably on a particular defendant. Some lawyers have even taken to hiring "shadow juries," laymen paid to watch the proceedings and offer their impressions at the end of each day.
Though many attorneys swear by these innovations, juries remain the wild card of courtroom trials. No matter how much evidence a lawyer submits, no matter how persuasively he argues, each juror's mind remains as remote and unfathomable as an iceberg. Still less predictable is the way in which these minds will act in concert, how they will process the numbing accumulation of evidence and the rhetoric of opposing lawyers.
Of the six Rodriguez jurors, two -- Hattie Albritton and Miriam Fernandez -- refused to discuss the case for this story. The following summary of the deliberations is based on interviews with the other four.
A straw poll taken shortly after the jurors retired to the jury room revealed three firm votes for not guilty: Victor Boulos, the foreman, a gas station owner of Lebanese descent who came to Miami from Haiti in the early Seventies; Miriam Fernandez, a bank employee from Hialeah Gardens; and Hattie Albritton, a retired Eastern Airlines employee from Opa-locka.
Clarence Mills, Jr., a retired U.S. Air Force man also from Opa-locka, and Anita Rowden, a Miami switchboard operator, both felt Rodriguez was guilty.
Mark Laney, a physical therapy student from North Miami, was undecided but leaned toward conviction.
While early discussion centered on tangential issues, such as what kind of handgun Rodriguez allegedly carried and how unfired live rounds of ammunition wound up inside Malaga, the debate soon shifted to a central theme: whether there was enough evidence to link Rodriguez to the restaurant in the first place. The three jurors pushing for acquittal followed David Peckins's skeptical assessment of the fact that only a fraction of the 80 potential witnesses had come forward. Those lobbying for guilty countered that one eyewitness should be enough and cited the testimony of Candida Ponte, who had said under oath that she would never forget the face of the man -- Raul Rodriguez -- who had used the barrel of his gun to pop off her necklace.
When Laney brought up Rodriguez's own confessions, Boulos countered that the statements plainly had been coerced. What criminal, he challenged, would voluntarily spill his guts? The others seemed to concur that some pressure must have been applied. Employing this line of logic, along with Judge Fredricka Smith's instructions to disregard any statements "not given voluntarily," the confessions were summarily dismissed as a nonissue.
After nearly two and half hours, however, nobody had budged. The jurors sent Judge Smith a note informing her they could not reach a verdict. She ordered them to carry on. "I guess we're going to be here awhile," Laney said glumly.
"I got all weekend," Mills announced, and the rest of the group groaned.
A few jurors were concerned about the prospect of having to remain sequestered until Monday. It was at this tense juncture that Albritton (who, her colleagues recall, had said she was a veteran of more than one previous jury) pursued a different tack, one unrelated to the evidence. If we return a hung jury, she insisted, the defendant will likely go free anyway. Her assertion, accepted by the rest of the jury, had an obvious underlying implication: By not switching their votes, the guilties were uselessly prolonging the agony of deliberations.
Laney abruptly switched his vote to not guilty. "It was clear that I wasn't going to be able to win over the three not-guilties," Laney says now. "And it was clear that there was a good chance the guy would go free on a mistrial anyway. I wanted some resolution."
(Regarding the potential consequences of such an outcome, Albritton was misinformed. In the event of a hung jury, defendants remain in prison and must be retried within 60 days if the state requests a new trial.)
Rowden says she was deeply shaken by Laney's change of heart. Of all her fellow jurors, he had seemed the most articulate and intelligent. She had hoped for his support in defending her position. And with the group swayed toward acquittal, the new majority was campaigning to change her mind. While Laney gently urged her to reconsider the lack of physical evidence, others stressed practical concerns.
They wanted to go home.
After an hour, Rowden relented. "I was tired," she recalls today. "It had been a rough week and I needed my blood-pressure medicine." She announced through tears that she was changing her vote to not guilty.
Finally the group turned to the lone holdout, Clarence Mills, Jr. A small, taciturn man, he had contributed little to the discussion beyond the single word "guilty," which he now muttered defiantly. A sobbing Rowden looked him in the eye. "I'm not crying because I want you to change your mind. I'm crying because I'm upset," she explained. "But Clarence, do you think you could change your mind?"
The personal appeal was too much. "I'll go along with the program," Mills spat. "Not because I think that boy's innocent, but because you're upset."
Rowden remembers waiting for the bus in the rain outside the courtroom after delivering the verdicts, and seething. "I woke up the next day and I wanted to call the judge and tell her, 'This is not justice,'" the juror says now. "I wanted to tell her I wasn't one of those people who let that guy go. That I was pushed to. That I was a wreck. If I had to be in a hotel with those jurors over the whole weekend, I probably would have killed one of them. Then I thought that if I had killed someone, I would sure like those jurors at my trial, because they probably would have found not enough evidence."
Word of the Rodriguez acquittal spread quickly through the Major Crimes Division of the Dade State Attorney's Office, where it was widely attributed to a "runaway jury."
One could just as easily attribute the verdict to the U.S. Constitution. Because of the laws drafted to ensure all defendants a fair trial, the Rodriguez jury never heard many of the key facts surrounding the Malaga robbery: That Betancourt and Carrazana had both confessed, that their statements included consistent accounts of Rodriguez's involvement, and that both were convicted. That Rodriguez, at the time he stood trial, had been charged in five additional cases, including two armed robberies. That Rodriguez (and his alleged accomplices) had confessed to these crimes, too, and had been identified by witnesses. "I think everyone realized that because of the system, there was a lot of information that we didn't have available to us," notes Victor Boulos, the jury foreman.
Lead prosecutor Flora Seff took the loss, her first in years, especially hard. Privately the fourteen-year veteran of the State Attorney's Office spoke of the jury in bitter, even caustic terms. Publicly, however, she has acknowledged her own mistakes.
"Probably the biggest one was to think the case we had was too good," Seff concedes. "We thought it was a lock." Of the seven eyewitnesses who identified Rodriguez from photo lineups, for instance, the state summoned only four to the stand. Prosecutors also decided to present only half of the hourlong taped confession Rodriguez made to Miami police, on the assumption that the jury had heard enough. And although police had taken sworn statements from Rodriguez's girlfriend and her brother, both alleging the defendant's guilt, the state never called either to the stand.
Seff's cross-examination of Rodriguez was another lost opportunity. Given the defendant's vague testimony, the prosecutor might have pressed him on crucial points, such as how he managed to spontaneously fabricate his lengthy initial confession. Or why there was no physical evidence of his having been beaten by the police, as he claimed. Instead she seemed content to badger him about details. More than one bemused juror later observed that Seff never even asked Rodriguez where he was on the night Malaga was robbed. Nor did she call Del Campo, the FBI agent, back to the stand to rebut the defendant's claims of having been browbeaten. "Most of us had doubts about the defendant's story," Mark Laney says now. "But the prosecutor wasn't able to make his testimony a sham, which she probably could have." Seff does not dispute Laney's assessment.
Another miscue, this one more awkward for her to discuss, was Seff's decision to allow Nelson Rodriguez, a prosecutor with only three years' experience, to deliver the closing argument. Seff says she had hoped that notching a conviction would boost her less-experienced colleague's confidence. But his stiff recitation did little to dispel the doubts Peckins had stacked before jurors.
Mark Laney says he found Nelson Rodriguez presumptuous: "He told us the number of witnesses we got was more than enough to convict, and I was like, 'Excuse me, but it was not.'"
With the benefit of hindsight, Seff concludes, she would have done a lot of things differently. "But you have to look at it from our perspective," she stresses. "We had already convicted his accomplices. We had three different confessions. The kid had confessed to an FBI agent, for crying out loud. I mean, as a prosecutor, you pray to have a federal agent on your witness list. In that situation, am I going to spend more taxpayers' money on a case that should be a lock?"
The point is hard to dispute, given the state of Seff's office, which is dominated by cardboard boxes, each bulging with the particulars of a new crime. Every week Seff faithfully inspects the pictures of her latest blood-spattered victim and scowling defendant. And every week more boxes arrive.
"Why so much confession?"
-- Miami Police Det. Jose Granado
Six months before the Raul Rodriguez trial -- on the same day, by coincidence, that jurors at the Carrazana and Betancourt trials were being shown photos of Elaudio Santiago's dead body -- Judge Barbara Levenson issued a ruling in his case, denying a defense motion to suppress Rodriguez's confessions to police.
"It is clear to this court, and the testimony is uncontroverted, that the police in Miami advised the defendant of his right against self-incrimination," Levenson wrote. "They did nothing to threaten him and followed careful noncoercive police procedures when bringing him to the station and questioning him.... There has been no testimony of physical or mental coercion. There has been no proof of any inhumane treatment."
Most defense attorneys would argue that this conclusion is erroneous on its face, that the very act of being arrested or hauled in for questioning A particularly following a SWAT invasion A is inherently coercive. Police, they argue, are versed in modes of intimidation designed to elicit confessions: refusing to apprise a suspect of his legal rights, lying to him about what other suspects have said, issuing false promises of leniency. Even roughing up a suspect a little.
Cops can also lie, and they do lie. To many observers, this has been the ominous lesson drawn from the trials of Rodney King, William Lozano, and slain Wynwood drug dealer Leonardo Mercado.
Skepticism regarding police, too, has spilled into prime-time television. The week before Raul Rodriguez went on trial, in fact, the popular drama NYPD Blue aired an episode in which a suspect was cowed into making a confession. Victor Boulos had it right: What criminal in his right mind would volunteer statements that could send him to prison for years?
Law enforcement authorities counter that criminals, especially young ones, often want to talk about the crimes they've committed. "They know they've really screwed it up and that they're getting caught," explains Jose Granado, the Miami homicide detective who interviewed Raul Rodriguez after the raid. "To confess is a relief, and in a way it's a status thing. For a lot of these kids, this [crime] is the biggest thing that's ever happened in their life. But what fun is it if you can't even talk about it?
"I would never, never pressure anyone to give a confession," Granado adds at the mention of the Rodriguez acquittal. "I'm not going to risk my reputation, or my unit's, for that. If they want to talk, fine. If not, fine. This is not the 1920s. We do not use spotlights, or the Chinese water torture. If it's a serious offense, the suspect is probably in the game already, and we'll be seeing them again. In Rodriguez's case, all those kids talked. They talked to everybody about everything. It was like a jukebox. We practically had to pull the plug to get them to shut up."
"Obviously the jury was very convinced by the defendant's testimony on the stand," Rodriguez's lawyer David Peckins says matter-of-factly. "The jury made the right decision."
It is tempting, in the face of what appears to be an injustice, to disregard the ground rules of jurisprudence. Namely, that a man is innocent until proven guilty. That he is entitled to a fair trial by a jury of his peers. That the jury gets the final say.
Raul Rodriguez is no murderer. As regards the fatal robbery at Malaga three years ago, he is innocent as a lamb.
Though his jurors could not have known it when they exonerated him, he will remain in jail, held without bond. In July he is slated to be tried on one or more of his pending charges, which include another armed robbery, aggravated assault, and escaping from the Dade stockade. Flora Seff says that as a matter of conscience, she will be handling the prosecution on these cases.
Because of his upcoming trial, Rodriguez's new court-appointed lawyer, Diane Ward, declined to allow her client to be interviewed for this story. The jury heard his testimony on the witness stand, that he was coerced into confessing. Of course, the jurors were denied the chance to hear all the defendant had to say about the crime, because the tail end of the confession he gave Miami police three years ago was not played at the trial. They never heard his own assessment of motive, for instance. Nor the plea he uttered upon learning that Elaudio Santiago had died A upon learning, in other words, that he had allegedly ended another man's life:
Rodriguez: What I have done has been done out of necessity. Because I have needed the money, and then I didn't want to do it, either.... To start stealing again, I don't think it was for the heck of it or anything like that. If A if I've done it, it has been out of, out of necessity. At no time have I wanted to kill anybody.
Granado: But that's the risk you were running when you were robbing people at gunpoint, no?
Rodriguez: Yes, I know that if I went, I would expect to be killed, to kill or be killed.
Granado: And in this case you killed.
Rodriguez: I don't know if I killed.
Granado: I'm telling you, you killed. This man is dead. As a consequence of a shot he received from your weapon. And you know that because of that, you are going to have to go in front of a judge and you are going to have to answer to the charges?
Granado: Are you sorry now for what has occurred?
Granado: Do you realize the gravity and consequences of your acts?
Granado: Is there anything else you want to say at this moment, Raul, before we end this recording?
Rodriguez: No, the only thing I have left to say is that may God forgive me, and nothing else.
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