Defense: Escapee's Life Should Be Spared Because of Abuse

By Susan Parrott
Associated Press State & Local Wire
May 9, 2002

Defense attorneys asked an East Texas jury Thursday to be compassionate and spare escaped prisoner and convicted killer Michael Rodriguez from the death penalty.

The jury was expected to begin deliberating whether Rodriguez should get the death penalty or life in prison after closing arguments Thursday afternoon.

Rodriguez, 39, was convicted last week of capital murder in the killing of Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins during a Christmas Eve 2000 robbery by Rodriguez and a gang of escaped prisoners.

Defense attorneys asked jurors not to retaliate with "an eye for an eye."

"How do you explain killing someone when killing someone is wrong?" said defense attorney Gary Taylor.

Prosecutors said the only justice is the death penalty because Rodriguez has shown he remains a danger to society.

Rodriguez was serving a life sentence for the murder-for-hire of his wife when he and six other men escaped from a South Texas prison and led authorities on a nationwide manhunt before their Colorado capture about six weeks later.

Two of the escapees, ringleader George Rivas and Donald Keith Newbury, have been convicted by Dallas juries and sentenced to death. Rodriguez's lawyers successfully lobbied for a change of venue to Franklin County.

Defense attorneys earlier argued that Rodriguez should be spared because of sexual abuse he suffered as a teen-ager while attending a Catholic high school.

His attorneys subpoenaed a former Marianist brother who taught more than two decades ago at San Antonio Central Catholic High School, got him to come to Texas and sought to get him to testify that he had sexually abused Rodriguez.

The retired teacher, Eugene Fitzsimmons, in a hearing outside the presence of the jury, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Rodriguez was serving a life sentence for capital murder in San Antonio, where he was convicted of paying a man $2,000 to kill his wife so he could collect $400,000 in life insurance.

Rodriguez graduated from Central Catholic, a Marianist high school, in 1981. Fitzsimmons taught at the school from 1960 to 1962 and from 1975 to 1980.

The Rev. Timothy Dwyer, provincial superior of the Society of Mary's St. Louis Province, which includes Texas, said Rodriguez's attorneys contacted him about Fitzsimmons several months ago and subpoenaed the province's records for the years he had taught at Central Catholic.

Dwyer told the San Antonio Express-News that Rodriguez never made any allegations against Fitzsimmons.

At the sentencing hearing Wednesday, a psychology professor at the University of Arizona told the jury Rodriguez said that while he was in high school, a member of the Catholic clergy initiated him into sexual activity.

Judith Becker said Rodriguez fell in love with the man and then ultimately was rejected by him.

Rodriguez married only to satisfy his parents' desire, Becker said in a report Wednesday on the Dallas Morning News' online edition. She testified that Rodriguez arranged for his wife's murder because he thought his wife would leave him and his homosexuality would be revealed.

When Rodriguez went to prison, he developed strong feelings for Rivas, the leader of the gang that broke out of the Connally Unit in December 2000.

Rodriguez participated in the escape and the crime spree because he wanted to please Rivas and have a relationship with him, she said.

"In his mind, he believed after the escape he would have a life with Mr. Rivas," Becker testified. "They would be partners and they would go on to live together."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.