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A.G. Schneiderman announces murder conviction in 1979 Buffalo cold case

by jmaloni

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Fri, Oct 24th 2014 08:15 pm

Michael Rodriguez convicted for brutally stabbing estranged wife 108 times in Holy Cross Cemetery on Good Friday 

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced the conviction of Michael Rodriguez for the 1979 murder of his estranged wife, Patricia Scinta Rodriguez.

Patricia's body was found in a deserted section of Lackawanna's Holy Cross Cemetery in the early morning hours of April 13, 1979 (Good Friday); she had been stabbed at least 108 times. Following a two-week trial and just three hours of deliberation, an Erie County jury today convicted Michael of murder in the second degree. He faces life in prison. 

"Our goal in bringing this case was to get justice for Patti, and I hope today's verdict brings a small measure of comfort to her family and friends," Schneiderman. "No murder should go unsolved. Today's verdict is a reminder that we will never stop seeking justice for victims and their families."

During the trial, several witnesses testified that, on the night before her body was found, they saw Patricia and the defendant dancing at Danny Boy's, a local bar. A longtime neighbor of Michael testified he saw the pair leave the bar and enter the cemetery together. It was the last time that anyone saw Patricia alive. 

Michael's girlfriend at the time, Donna Williams, testified that, just a few hours later, Michael called her and said: "I killed Patti in the graveyard."

Just 19 years old at the time, she cleaned Patricia's bloody, brown leather jacket when he came home that morning and later provided an alibi for Michael in interviews with police. Williams testified she lied to police because she loved Michael, was pregnant with his child, and wanted to build a life with him.  

However, on the 30th anniversary of the murder in 2009, the New York State Police, led by Senior Investigator Christopher Weber, reopened the investigation and Williams felt compelled to come forward to police and tell the truth.

In 2009, when the New York State Police's major crimes unit reopened the case, forensic testing of the brown leather jacket determined four dried bloodstains on the jacket matched Patricia's DNA. Additional forensic testing in 2013 identified Michael's DNA inside an intimate area of the clothing the victim was wearing on the night she was killed.

The brother of Michael's best friend also testified at trial, saying he and his brother helped get rid of Patricia's bloody shoes and clothes the day after the murder. He and his brother took the clothes, including a pair of bloody shoes belonging to Michael, to a remote area of Woodlawn Beach and burned them.

The two final witnesses for the attorney general's office testified Michael admitted to each of them, separately and years after the murder, that he had killed Patricia. An ex-girlfriend of the defendant testified that, in 1983, Michael beat her and threatened to kill her "like I killed my children's mother." She said she was too scared to call police; "I didn't want to be another Patty," she testified.

The defendant now faces a minimum sentence of 15 years to life and a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison, and is scheduled to be sentenced by the Honorable Michael L. D'Amico in Erie County Supreme Court Nov. 21.   

The attorney general thanked the New York State Police and Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico, the Lackawanna Police Department, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III, the Erie County Central Police Services forensic laboratory and the Erie County office of the medical examiner for their assistance in this investigation.  

The case was prosecuted by assistant attorneys general Diane LaVallee and Cydney Kelly of the criminal enforcement and financial crimes bureau, and Assistant Attorney General Patricia Carrington of the organized crime task force, with the assistance of Deputy Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton and Assistant Attorney General Isaac Gilwit.  The case was overseen by Gary Fishman, chief of the criminal enforcement and financial crimes bureau. The criminal enforcement and financial crimes bureau is part of the division of criminal justice, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan. 

The prosecution was assisted by Supervising Investigator Richard Doyle, Senior Investigator Sandra Migaj, and Investigator Christopher Bzduch of the attorney general's investigations bureau, which is led by Chief of Investigations Dominick Zarrella. 

The investigation was led by New York State Police Senior Investigator Christopher Weber and Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli. The Lackawanna Police Department, under the direction of Chief James L. Michel, also assisted with the investigation. 

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