on November 20, 2013 - 11:05 AM
, updated November 20, 2013 at 1:35 PM
Patricia A. Scinta picked up the telephone at 6 a.m. Wednesday and heard the news that the 81-year-old grieving mother had been praying to hear for 34 years.
“We just arrested Michael Rodriguez in your daughter’s death,” Christopher S. Weber, a senior investigator for the State Police, told her.
“Thank God,” Scinta said and began to weep. “After I hung up, I thought, ‘And thank Chris Weber, too.’ That man worked his heart out.”
His work culminated with the arrest of 59-year-old Michael Rodriguez, estranged husband, early Wednesday at his South Buffalo home in the 1979 slaying of Patricia Rodriguez.
Four hours later and a world away from his comfortable life as a husband and father of two young children at a Pries Avenue home, Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder in front of State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia.
Assistant State Attorney General Paul F. McCarthy told the judge that DNA evidence from Rodriguez had been found on the clothing of Patti Rodriguez at the time of the killing.
Weber’s cold case investigation began in 2009 at the request of Lackawanna Police Chief James L. Michel Jr.
He found new witnesses and prior witnesses who said Rodriguez and his wife were at a Lackawanna bar on the Thursday night before the killing and later seen entering Lackawanna’s Holy Cross Cemetery, where a groundskeeper would find her body on Good Friday morning, April 13, 1979.
The State Police went to State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman seeking assistance in prosecuting the case. Investigators obtained a court order for a DNA swab from Rodriguez, which authorities determined matched DNA evidence found on the victim.
A year ago, Weber, a veteran investigator who helped put “Bike Path Killer” Altemio C. Sanchez behind bars for life in 2007, came to Scinta’s front door in South Buffalo to ask questions about this cold case.
“I give up,” she said, having lost all hope that her daughter’s killer would ever be brought to justice.
“I haven’t,” Weber said.
Scinta said she always believed that Rodriguez was responsible for the brutal murder.
“I knew it was him because I knew how violent he was. She was pregnant with their first child and had come to my home, and I heard scuffling in the hallway and he was beating on her,” Scinta said. “I went out and tried to pull his hands from her. I had to pull his ponytail, and I slapped him in the face, and he started to cry. He said his mother told him never let anyone slap your face.”
Before Patricia Christine “Patti” Scinta gave birth to their first child, Michalene, the 17-year-old expectant mother married Rodriguez on July 5, 1974, in North Carolina, where he was serving in the Marine Corps.
But almost immediately after they married, the couple split up, only to reunite and two years later have a son, Michael.
The cycle of violence, Scinta said, continued and for reasons she’ll never understand, her daughter kept taking Rodriguez back or begging him to return to her.
A year before she was murdered, Patti Rodriguez wrote a letter to her estranged husband:
“Well here’s another one of my dumb letters. Ya know babe, you must really be getting sick of me asking you to come home. Every time I see you I start bugging you. So I want to say I’m sorry. I won’t ask you anymore.
“Love, Patti Rodriguez.”
On the back page of the letter, she wrote a poem, “When I’m Alone,” again begging for his return:
When I’m alone it’s a terrible thing.
My mind starts to drift, I sit and look at my wedding ring,
And remember the day you gave me that beautiful gift.
… How much can I say about being alone,
Except that I miss you,
And I need you to come home!
Scinta recalled the last time she spoke to her daughter.
On the night of April 12, 1979, Patti Rodriguez, who was living on Buffalo’s West Side, dropped off her two children at her parents’ Allegany Avenue home in South Buffalo. When her father, Salvatore Scinta, found out she was going out to see Michael Rodriguez, he became upset.
“I was out at bingo when Patti dropped the kids off. When I came home, Sal was really mad,” Patricia Scinta said. “Patti called and asked me, ‘Why is daddy mad?’ I told Patti, ‘Because he loves you and he knows that Michael is going to hurt you.’ I asked Patti why Michael wanted to see her.
“She said, ‘He says I look good now.’ Michael was always saying that Patti was fat even though she wasn’t. But she had started taking diet pills. I believe he was planning to hurt her,” Patricia Scinta said.
Unlike his wife, Salvatore Scinta never lived to see his daughter’s killer arrested. He died in 2001.
But his words had proved prophetic about harm coming to his daughter.
After partying at a “Drink and Drown Night” at Danny Boy’s, a bar at Abbott Road and Dorrance Avenue, Patti Rodriguez, one month shy of her 21st birthday, was seen leaving the bar with Michael Rodriguez, according to witnesses.
Other witnesses said they saw the couple enter nearby Holy Cross Cemetery, and that was the last time anyone saw Patti Rodriguez alive.
The next morning a cemetery worker found Patti Rodriguez’s body lying face-up on a grave.
“She was stabbed mostly in the back, and her little fingernails were all broken, as she was trying to crawl away from the animal that was stabbing her,” Scinta said. “I want to know how someone could do that. I want to hear Michael in court explain.”
State Police Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli, head of Troop A’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation in Batavia, said the ferocity of the attack appeared to make it “a crime of love and hatred.”
Investigators uncovered other instances of Rodriguez’s violent reputation. “A number of witnesses have expressed a fear of what he would do to them,” McCarthy said in court Wednesday.
That observation along with Rodriguez’s past criminal history of assault, burglary, weapons possession and witness intimidation was enough for Buscaglia to accept McCarthy’s request that the defendant be held without bail.
But not everyone believes that Rodriguez killed his former wife.
After loading their two young children into the family’s sport utility vehicle Wednesday morning to take them to school, Jeannie Rodriguez said her husband was innocent.
“He’s not a murderer. He’s been framed,” the wife said. “They have no proof.”
A neighbor on her way to morning Mass described Rodriguez as an exemplary father.
“If he is a murderer, he does a fantastic job as a father,” she said. “The children are well-dressed and go to school every day, and they go to the same church as I do, Holy Family.”
Unable to work because of arthritis caused from employment as a roofer and painter, according to a relative, Rodriguez was either receiving disability payments or seeking them.
He often could be seen walking his Rottweiler puppy, Gypsy Rose, on Pries Avenue, residents said.
“I called him Mr. Mike, and he called me Mr. Paul. He’s lived next door for several years, and he is a great guy,” said Paul Bauer. “He’d give you the shirt off his back. In fact, he came over here the other day and blew the leaves off my lawn. He would tell me he had children older than me.”
All the talk of being a good father was upsetting to Patricia Scinta, who said, “He did not raise the two children he had with Patti. He gave them to his mother to raise.”
Michalene “Mickey” Rodriguez, who is now 38, said she was at loss to comment on her father’s arrest when she arrived at her maternal grandmother’s home Wednesday as a steady stream of phone calls came in offering support.
“Whoever killed my mother deserves to be put in jail,” the daughter said.
Patricia Scinta recalled how they waited several days after the murder before telling Mickey that her mother was gone.
“She looked at me and said, ‘Who will be my mommy now?’ ”
News Staff Reporter James Staas contributed to this report. email: email@example.com