Blood was found on the handle of a knife allegedly used in the fatal stabbing of a Lackawanna woman 34 years ago in a Lackawanna cemetery, said an attorney representing Michael Rodriguez, the woman’s estranged husband and the defendant in the case.
But the blood was not his client’s, said defense lawyer Paul J. Cambria.
The blood was from an unknown man, Cambria told reporters Monday outside an Erie County courtroom in downtown Buffalo.
Rodriguez, 59, of South Buffalo, has been held without bail since his arrest and arraignment last month on murder charges in the slaying of Patty Rodriguez. Her body was found with 108 stab wounds on April 13, 1979 – Good Friday – in Holy Cross Cemetery. She was 21 and the mother of two children. Rodriguez was the victim’s estranged husband at the time of her death.
At the Nov. 20 arraignment, Assistant Attorney General Paul F. McCarthy said the defendant’s DNA was found on the victim’s clothing. He also said witnesses indicated they saw Rodriguez and his wife together the evening before her body was found and that they also saw them enter Holy Cross Cemetery that night. They were reportedly seen leaving Danny Boy’s bar at Abbott Road and Dorrance Avenue, where they had been drinking.
But there was no mention of a blood-stained knife handle at the arraignment.
Cambria, who recently replaced Robert P. Johnson as Rodriguez’s attorney, made his initial court appearance in the case Monday with his client before Erie County Judge Michael L. D’Amico. He told the judge he would make a motion seeking bail for his client, but only after reviewing a report he just received from the state Attorney General’s Office on blood and DNA evidence in the case.
Cambria said that report, prepared by an expert for the prosecution, indicated that blood from an unknown male was found on the knife handle.
Outside the courtroom, Cambria said his client was surprised and shocked when charges were filed against him 34 years after the slaying. Rodriguez has remarried and has two children.
Cambria said it will be difficult to find witnesses and evidence so long after the crime. He questioned the prosecution’s delay in filing the charges, noting the DNA had been found shortly after the crime.
He said the delay was extremely prejudicial to the defense.
“The delay alone will be the basis for another motion,” he said.
The indictment was returned by a special grand jury Nov. 19. Rodriguez was arrested early the next day at his Pries Avenue home by state police and Lackawanna police along with a state attorney general’s investigator.
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 gathered in the cemetery, used scientific technology that did not exist at the time of the slaying and reinterviewed witnesses, gleaning additional information.
Prosecutors obtained a court order in September for a DNA sample from Rodriguez.
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.
Sedita has never wavered from his long-held belief that he could not successfully prosecute Rodriguez in the killing of his estranged wife. State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman disagrees; he believes he has a case.
D’Amico set a trial date for May 5, with motions due by Jan. 15.