A former Lackawanna police detective testified Wednesday in Erie County Court about a 35-year-old murder case that led to the indictment last fall of the victim’s former husband.
The testimony came during a pretrial hearing on a bid by defense attorneys for Michael Rodriguez to suppress his April 13, 1979, statement to police and evidence seized from his apartment after the body of Patty Rodriguez was found earlier that Good Friday in Lackawanna’s Holy Cross Cemetery with 108 stab wounds.
The 21-year-old victim was the mother of two children. The defendant was her estranged husband at the time of her death.
Michael Rodriguez, 60, who has remarried and has two children, was arrested last November at his home on Pries Avenue in South Buffalo after he was indicted on murder charges. He is being held without bail.
The trial is scheduled for Oct. 14 before Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico.
State police reopened the long unsolved murder case in 2009 at the request of Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr.
In reviewing the cold case, State Police Senior Investigator Christopher Weber took a second look at forensic evidence found in the cemetery, used scientific technology that did not exist at the time of the slaying and re-interviewed witnesses.
At the time of the indictment, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said that after discussing the case with the Attorney General’s Office, he agreed that the case should be assigned to that office.
One of the key pieces of evidence, a brown leather jacket seized from the defendant’s apartment on Fernald Avenue in Lackawanna the day after the body was found, came up during Wednesday’s hearing.
Sophisticated DNA testing allegedly detected traces of the victim’s blood on it, according to police sources.
Paul J. Cambria, Michael Rodriguez’s attorney, questioned Dana J. Britton, a former detective who is now Lackawanna’s director of public safety, about the jacket.
Britton said he went to the defendant’s apartment on April 14, 1979, to get the jacket, a day after Michael Rodriguez had signed a waiver authorizing police to search the premises.
Britton said he took the jacket to the police station and placed it in an evidence bag.
Britton admitted that the jacket was seized a day after an attorney, Peter Jasen, called police and said he represented the defendant, who was not charged until Nov. 19, 2013.
He said Capt. George Kennedy, who had questioned Rodriguez at the police station on April 13, 1979, before Jasen called and after Rodriguez had signed a waiver of his Miranda rights and indicated he didn’t want an attorney, told the defendant later that day that police couldn’t talk to him anymore because Jasen represented him.
He said Rodriguez told Kennedy that a friend had called Jasen to represent him but that he did not have an attorney.
“Did Rodriguez waive his right to an attorney in the presence of an attorney?” Cambria asked.
“No, but Rodriguez said he had no attorney,” Britton said.
“No one ever got a waiver of attorney from Rodriguez in the presence of an attorney after police had heard from Jasen?” Cambria asked.
“Correct,” Britton said.
Jane Przewlowcki, who retired from the Lackawanna Police Department in 1984, said she typed Rodriguez’s statement during his interview in Kennedy’s office. The 90-year-old witness, who was in a wheelchair, then read the statement.
Rodriguez told police he went to Danny Boy’s bar at Abbott Road and Dorrance Avenue about 10 p.m. April 12, 1979, with a friend and ran into his estranged wife. He said he talked to her and later danced with her. He said she was not intoxicated.
He said he returned home around 3 a.m. and went to bed. He said a friend called him the next day and told him what had happened to Patty Rodriguez.
He said he later saw police officers with the victim’s father and told them he had seen his wife the night before. He said the officers took him to the police station where he gave a statement.
The hearing will continue today.