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Cape man found guilty in 2007 slaying of his wife

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

MICHAEL PISTELLA Joseph Rodriguez, 83, listens to Assistant State Attorney Leah Harwood begin her closing statement on Thursday. Rodriguez was found guilty of second-degree murder.

Joseph Rodriguez told jurors he had nothing to hide, that he did not kill his wife of 48 years.

Six Lee County jurors, four women and two men, apparently disagreed when they found him guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm late Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Assistant State Attorney Leah Harwood, lead prosecutor in Rodriguez’s trial.

Rodriguez, 83, was found guilty of fatally shooting his wife, Wanda Rodriguez, 75, in a bedroom of their Cape Coral home on June 27, 2007, despite his testimony to the contrary Thursday.

“I was taught by my father — I never raised a hand to Wanda, or anyone else in my life,” Rodriguez testified. “I’m not a fighter; I’m not a violent person.”

Rodriguez told jurors the bloody gloves police found soaking in bleach were those he wore to perform CPR on Wanda Rodriguez, who defense lawyers argued had taken her own life with a .38 caliber revolver.

He was a mechanic and wore gloves to keep his hands clean, Rodriguez said, cleaning the gloves would allow him to use them again — a habit.

As for the shorts with Wanda Rodriguez’s blood on them, tucked into the corner of a cabinet in the garage, they were only worn when he worked on the cars and Wanda had cut herself a few months earlier pruning roses, he said. She washed the shorts once a month, but the stains remained.

Rodriguez did not remember how the tumbler or Wanda’s eyeglasses got atop dried blood on the night stand.

He could not explain the blood patterns experts said they were confident meant she was shot on the bed and rolled onto the floor, or the other forensic evidence that made suicide unlikely.

But it did not make sense for Rodriguez to kill his wife, said Wilbur Smith, Rodriguez’s attorney during closing arguments. The couple had a loving marriage and there did not seem to be a motive.

“What would motivate him to do something so horrific?” Smith asked. “He doesn’t seem capable of such an atrocity.”

Despite Rodriguez’s age and seeming lack of motive, only the truth mattered in the jury room, Harwood told the jurors.

“The wondering and wanting to know why is not reasonable doubt,” she said.

The jurors did not get to know why. Neither did Wanda Rodriguez’s daughter, Debbie Cosman, who had in recent years been reunited with her mother and was planning a vacation for the two of them.

“My mother and I were very close,” she said. “She did not say anything to me about being depressed.”

Cosman, of Boca Raton, said a neighbor of her mother’s called to tell her she was dead.

Rodriguez did not call, and declined to have family called by medical personnel at the time of her death, according to the testimony of EMS workers earlier in the trial.

“I was very distraught; I was very upset,” Cosman said.

Her mother’s suitcase was already packed for the vacation they would not get to take, she said.

Cosman left the courtroom in tears with her husband following the reading of the verdict.

“I’m just glad it’s over,” she said, declining further comment.

Defense co-council Sawyer Smith said they would discuss the possibility of appealing with Rodriguez, but it was not yet clear whether they would do so.

“I think the jury had a tough case to analyze,” Smith said. “They did the best they could with it; we can’t change the verdict, but we appreciate their time and efforts, and we stand behind our client.”

Rodriguez will be sentenced Dec. 15, and faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.