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Experts: Evidence shows wife of Cape man did not kill self

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

The conditions surrounding a Cape Coral woman’s violent death rose ‘red flags’ to detectives, forensic investigators and medical examiners, they testified during day two of her husband’s trial, who is accused of shooting and killing her, and attempting to stage her suicide.

Joseph Rodriguez, 83, is charged with the second-degree murder of Wanda Rodriguez, 75. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

“The evidence will prove that on June 27, 2007 … Joseph Rodriguez murdered his wife, Wanda Rodriguez. He tried to make it look like a suicide, and failed in almost every way,” said Assistant State Attorney Leah Harwood during opening statements Wednesday.

Though defense attorney Wilbur Smith told the jury Wanda Rodriguez “very tragically took her own life,” much of Wednesday’s testimony argued to the contrary; she was found dead on her bedroom floor with a gunshot wound to the head, but experts testified her body was rolled off of the bed, and a suicide did not make sense, based on blood patterns and other forensic evidence.

“I found this highly suspicious and not consistent with a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” forensic investigator Bret Harding told the jury.

Two other medical examiners, Chief Investigator Sam Johnson and Chief Medical Examiner Rebecca Hamilton, said Wanda Rodriguez’s death was inconsistent with suicide.

However, forensic specialists could not explain what motivation might cause someone to move a body while staging a suicide.

Detectives told jurors they found what they believed to be bloody gloves soaking in bleach, blood-stained shorts in the back of a cabinet and drops of blood on a car in the garage.

They were surprised the person they believe committed a murder is Rodriguez, who they knew as “Pepe” when he volunteered at the Cape Coral Police Department.

Rodriguez seemed fixated on how his wife had possession of a gun, but later said he gave her the gun years earlier, detectives testified.

“Red flags started popping up in our heads,” Detective Thomas Rall told jurors. “We thought it was more than an accidental death, or a natural death or a suicide. I have blood on the bed, I have the victim on the floor; it just set off red flags.”

Neighbors said Wanda Rodriguez had health conditions but never expressed an intention to commit suicide. She was happy to soon be going on a trip with her daughter.

Outside the presence of the jury, a longtime friend of the family said Wanda Rodriguez did not like guns, though Joseph Rodriguez kept several in the home.

“She said she was afraid of all those guns in the house, and she was afraid (Rodriguez) would shoot her,” Sally Madelina said.

The statement was considered inadmissible to jurors because it was hearsay, though Harwood argued it went to Rodriguez’s state of mind as the defense was arguing suicide. The issue was set to be resolved at a later point in the trial.

The trial will resume today at 9 a.m.