State v. Rodriguez, 302A14

Decision Date08 June 2018
Docket NumberNo. 302A14,302A14
Citation371 N.C. 295,814 S.E.2d 11
Parties STATE of North Carolina v. Juan Carlos RODRIGUEZ
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court

Josh H. Stein, Attorney General, by Mary Carla Babb and Kimberly N. Callahan, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State.

Glenn Gerding, Appellate Defender, by Barbara S. Blackman, John F. Carella, and Kathryn L. VandenBerg, Assistant Appellate Defenders, for defendant-appellant.

ERVIN, Justice.

Defendant Juan Carlos Rodriguez was convicted of the first-degree murder of his estranged wife, Maria Magdelana Rodriguez, and sentenced to death. After careful consideration of defendant's challenges to his convictions and sentence in light of the record and the applicable law, we find no error in the proceedings leading to defendant's conviction and the jury's rejection of his intellectual disability defense.1 On the other hand, we conclude that the trial court erred by failing, acting ex mero motu , to submit the statutory mitigating circumstance enumerated in N.C.G.S. § 15A–2000(f)(6) ("[t]he capacity of the defendant to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was impaired") to the jury at defendant's capital sentencing hearing. As a result, we vacate defendant's death sentence and remand this case to the Superior Court, Forsyth County, for a new capital sentencing hearing.

I. Factual Background
A. Substantive Facts
1. State's Evidence

Defendant and Ms. Rodriguez became emotionally involved with each other in late 1992. The couple married when Ms. Rodriguez was thirteen years old and defendant was sixteen or seventeen years old and had their first child when Ms. Rodriguez was fourteen years old. Unfortunately, defendant became physically and emotionally abusive towards Ms. Rodriguez following their marriage.

This pattern of domestic violence continued after the couple came to the United States.

On 11 October 2010, Ms. Rodriguez entered a domestic violence shelter with her three children because she could "no longer live with [her] husband" and did not "have anywhere else to go." At the time that she entered the shelter, Ms. Rodriguez noted on an intake form that defendant had threatened to kill her, controlled most of her daily activities, and was violently jealous of her. Although Ms. Rodriguez left the shelter on 19 October 2010, she returned on 29 October to retrieve certain medications that she had left at that location. During the 29 October visit to the domestic violence shelter, Ms. Rodriguez seemed "happy" and "optimistic" and told shelter personnel that, while she was "doing well" and while Mr. Rodriguez "ha[d] not tried to move back in," "she [wa]s struggling to find employment" and "need[ed] assistance with food." On the other hand, Ms. Rodriguez told her friend, Merlyn Rodriguez, on 17 November 2010, that she was afraid of defendant; that he had "told her that if they didn't get back together, he would kill her"; and that "he could get rid of her and just throw her in the river."

On 18 November 2010, defendant came to the couple's former apartment, which was located at 1828 Trellis Lane in Winston-Salem and in which Ms. Rodriguez and the children had resided following the couple's separation, and asked Ms. Rodriguez to speak with him privately in the master bedroom. After a few minutes, the Rodriguez children, who were listening to music in the living room, heard Ms. Rodriguez cry for help. Santos Estela Rodriguez, one of the couple's children, attempted to open the door to the master bedroom but found that it was locked.2 After failing to gain access to the master bedroom by using a knife, Santos Estela Rodriguez told defendant that she was going to call the police. Shortly thereafter, defendant emerged from the master bedroom with blood on his knuckles, feet, and clothes. As soon as Santos Estela Rodriguez entered the master bedroom and "saw her mother on the floor" "breathing really hard," defendant stated that Ms. Rodriguez had hurt herself on the furniture and that he was taking Ms. Rodriguez to the hospital. After hoisting Ms. Rodriguez over his shoulder, defendant carried her to his vehicle.

Several hours later, defendant returned to 1828 Trellis Lane without Ms. Rodriguez. Upon arriving at the apartment, defendant asked the children and the son of a neighbor to help him clean the blood stained carpeting in the master bedroom. Although Santos Estela Rodriguez called all of the nearby hospitals, she was never able to locate her mother. On the following morning, 19 November 2010, defendant took the children to the home of his boss, Henry Ramirez, who lived in Eden. During the trip to Eden, Santos Estela Rodriguez observed the presence of blood in defendant's vehicle. A subsequent examination of defendant's vehicle by investigating officers revealed the presence of vomitus on the rear floorboard on the driver's side and blood on the interior of the rear driver's side door jamb, the back portion of the rear seat, a tan shirt located upon the upper portion of the rear seat, the rear floor mat on the driver's side, and the spare tire cover in the trunk.

At the time that investigating officers searched the apartment at 1828 Trellis Lane, they noticed that the premises were in disarray and that cleaning products could be found throughout the residence. "[A] large pool of blood or a large stain of what appeared to be blood [could be seen] on [the] carpet." According to another investigating officer, the carpet in the master bedroom "was discolored a pinkish color" and "frayed as though it had been scrubbed." Additional blood spatter patterns could be observed in the master bedroom as well.

At about 11:30 p.m. on 18 November 2010, Merlyn Rodriguez's sister, Zoila Rodriguez, began receiving messages from Ms. Rodriguez's phone. The messages received from Ms. Rodriguez's phone stated that:

Soyla, I went with my secret boyfriend to Spain. Carlos does not know. If he calls, tell him the truth and take care of the children. I met him three months ago. Cut the phone off because it doesn't work in the airport. Good-bye. I will call you from Spain. ... I don't have a charge anymore. Good-bye. Cut the telephone off. Later, I will fix it. I will call you from there.

Although Ms. Rodriguez knew how to spell Zoila Rodriguez's name, defendant later spelled Zoila's name as "Soyla" while conversing with investigating officers.

On 19 November 2010, Merlyn Rodriguez attempted to telephone Ms. Rodriguez on several occasions. However, each of Merlyn Rodriguez's calls went unanswered. After ascertaining that Ms. Rodriguez was not in her apartment, Merlyn Rodriguez called defendant, who initially told Merlyn Rodriguez that he did not know where Ms. Rodriguez was before stating that Ms. Rodriguez had "[s]tepped out of the house that night" and "never came back" and finally telling Merlyn Rodriguez that Ms. Rodriguez had "had an accident that night" and "was at the hospital."

Following her conversation with defendant, Merlyn Rodriguez called the police. Officer L.N. Williams of the Winston-Salem Police Department responded to Merlyn Rodriguez's missing person report, entered Ms. Rodriguez's apartment, and determined that she was not there. At that point, Officer Williams obtained defendant's phone number from Merlyn Rodriguez and called defendant for the purpose of inquiring into Ms. Rodriguez's whereabouts. Defendant told Officer Williams that Ms. Rodriguez had gone for a walk and did not return. After ascertaining that Ms. Rodriguez was not at work or at a local shelter and that the Rodriguez children were not in school, investigating officers began treating this matter as a high-risk missing person's case.

Defendant spent the night of 19 November 2010 with his pastor, David Agueda, in Martinsville, Virginia. On the following morning, while leading Saturday services, Pastor Agueda learned that investigating officers were looking for defendant and Ms. Rodriguez. Upon obtaining this information, Pastor Agueda advised defendant to turn himself in.

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on 19 November 2010, Lieutenant Steven Tollie of the Winston-Salem Police Department reclassified the case as a homicide and assigned it to Detective Stanley Nieves. After investigating officers located defendant on 21 November 2010, he was taken to Eden to be interviewed by Detective Nieves. In response to Detective Nieves's request that he describe the events that had occurred on 18 November 2010 at the 1828 Trellis Lane apartment, defendant stated that Ms. Rodriguez had told him that she was a lesbian and no longer wanted to be with him, that Ms. Rodriguez had hit her head against the dresser while lunging at him, and that Ms. Rodriguez had called for help after falling to the floor. At that point, defendant assisted Ms. Rodriguez in her efforts to get up, carried her to his car, and began to drive her to the hospital. As he did so, Ms. Rodriguez told defendant to stop, left the vehicle, and walked out of defendant's sight. Although Detective Nieves repeatedly accused defendant of having killed Ms. Rodriguez and having knowledge of the location at which Ms. Rodriguez's body could be found, defendant repeatedly denied Detective Nieves's accusations.

On the afternoon of 12 December 2010, which was a "very cold, damp" day featuring light snow and misty rain, investigating officers received a report that a decapitated body had been discovered in an area near 5020 Williamsburg Road in Winston-Salem that was "overgrown with small bushy pines" about "40 to 50 feet to the west of the asphalt area." Fingerprint information obtained from the body established that it was that of Ms. Rodriguez. On 29 May 2013, a human skull, later determined to be that of Ms. Rodriguez through the use of DNA analysis, was found in a wooded area near Belews Lake in rural Forsyth County.

According to Patrick Lantz, M.D., who autopsied the body, Ms. Rodriguez was in the early stages of decomposition at the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
4 cases
  • State v. Corbett
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • March 12, 2021
    ...make our own factual findings on appeal, a task for which an appellate court like this one is not well suited." State v. Rodriguez , 371 N.C. 295, 319, 814 S.E.2d 11 (2018). Even if the record contains significant evidence that the children possessed a motivation for truthfulness, we would ......
  • State v. Crump
    • United States
    • North Carolina Supreme Court
    • December 18, 2020
    ...discretion of the trial court." State v. Chapman , 359 N.C. 328, 346, 611 S.E.2d 794, 810 (2005) ; see also State v. Rodriguez , 371 N.C. 295, 312, 814 S.E.2d 11, 23 (2018) ("[T]he trial judge has broad discretion to regulate jury voir dire. ") (quoting State v. Fullwood , 343 N.C. 725, 732......
  • State v. Watkins
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • May 4, 2021
    ...court lacking any responsibility for passing on the credibility of witnesses or to weighing the testimony[.]" State v. Rodriguez , 371 N.C. 295, 318, 814 S.E.2d 11, 27–28 (2018) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).¶ 19 Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Defenda......
  • State v. Adams
    • United States
    • North Carolina Court of Appeals
    • September 6, 2022
    ...selection, a defendant must show that the court abused its discretion and that he was prejudiced thereby." State v. Rodriguez , 371 N.C. 295, 312, 814 S.E.2d 11, 23-24 (2018) (quotation omitted). "Abuse of discretion results where the court's ruling is manifestly unsupported by reason or is......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT