Rosendo Rodriguez III, 38, was executed by lethal injection on 27 March 2018 in Huntsville, Texas for the rape and murder of a prostitute.
On Friday, 9 September 2005, Rodriguez, then 25, checked into a Holiday Inn hotel in downtown Lubbock. He was in town from San Antonio for weekend training with the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The rest of his unit was registered to stay at a different Holiday Inn several miles away. He checked in under the name of Thomas Rodriguez. He was driving a new, red, four-door pickup he rented from Enterprise.
Chris Rodriguez, Rosendo Rodriguez's friend and former fraternity brother, learned that he was in Lubbock and called him on Saturday to make plans to go out that night. Rodriguez told Chris that he already had a date for the evening. Chris called him again on Sunday, and they agreed to meet at Chris's apartment before going out to see a movie that night.
On Sunday evening, Rodriguez met with Chris and some other people at Chris's apartment. Rodriguez told everyone that he served in Iraq, which was a lie. He described killing a young child in Iraq and having sex with various Iraqi "girls," including prostitutes.
Rodriguez and Chris left for the movie, which was showing at around 10:30 p.m., but they found that it was sold out. They decided to go to a bar instead. Both men had several drinks, and Rodriguez continued to discuss his fictional service in Iraq. Rodriguez drove Chris home around 12:45 a.m. on Monday morning.
Margie Estrada saw Summer Baldwin, 29, at a convenience store across from the Holiday Inn where Rodriguez was staying. She was seated in the passenger's seat of a new, red, four-door pickup truck driven by an Anglo or Hispanic man with a short, military-style haircut. Baldwin, who was a drug-addicted prostitute, got into Estrada's vehicle and told her that the man was her "client" and that they had been using drugs together. She then returned to the man in the red truck.
Hotel key records showed that Rodriguez entered his room at about 1:50 a.m. At about 3:30 a.m., he purchased a new Protégé-brand suitcase at Wal-Mart. He entered his hotel room again at 3:45 a.m.
Rodriguez called Chris on Monday. They recalled their activities of the previous night and laughed about having too much to drink. They made plans to meet on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, 13 September, Baldwin's severely abused body was discovered in the Lubbock city landfill. It was folded up inside a new Protégé suitcase. The victim's wallet, with no money in it, was found in a dumpster on Wednesday.
Baldwin had been a witness in a federal counterfeiting case, so the FBI became involved in investigating her death. A barcode label sewn onto the suitcase led them to the Wal-Mart where it was purchased. Credit card records and store surveillance footage were used to identify Rodriguez as a suspect.
Chris attempted to call Rodriguez on Wednesday, but he did not answer his phone. By that time, he had checked out of his hotel room, returned his rented vehicle, and taken a bus to San Antonio.
On Thursday, Lubbock detectives searched the room in which Rodriguez had stayed at the Holiday Inn. They found a dried pool of Baldwin's blood on the carpet and blood spatter on the mattress and box spring. In a trash container in the hallway were some Wal-Mart bags, a Protégé suitcase warranty card, a condom wrapper, and two sets of latex gloves. Rodriguez's DNA was found on the gloves. He was arrested at his parents' home that day.
Detectives found that Rodriguez had used his computer to search the internet for news stories on Baldwin's death and had used his own name as a search keyword. He also searched dating web sites for young women. His internet searches also included Joanna Rogers, a 16-year-old girl who disappeared on 4 May 2004. Evidence showed that Rodriguez and Rogers chatted on the internet several times in April and May and that he phoned her house twice on the morning that she disappeared.
Rodriguez declined to speak with officers at the time of his arrest. A month later, however, he gave a statement, accompanied by counsel. He stated that he met Baldwin on Saturday, 10 September, around 10:00 p.m. He found her crying as she walked down a dark street in the same direction he was driving. He pulled over, took her to his hotel room to let her clean herself up, then drove her home. He claimed he did not know she was a prostitute. He met her again Sunday night or Monday morning. He said they had consensual sexual intercourse in his room, and afterward, she lit a crack pipe. He did not approve of that, and they began to fight. He stated that Baldwin tried to attack him with a knife. Being put in a self-defense situation, his Marine combat training took over, and he placed her in a choke hold until she lost consciousness. He maintained that he never hit her or threw her against a wall.
Rodriguez stated that he checked Baldwin for a pulse and did not find one. She had blood on her mouth and her face was discolored. He admitted buying the suitcase, stuffing her body into it, and throwing it in a dumpster. He claimed the only injury she had at that time was a bruise on her back. His attorney turned over Baldwin's pocket knives to the police, one of which had her fingerprint on it.
In the summer of 2006, Rodriguez negotiated a plea bargain with the assistance of his lawyer, Jeff Blackburn. Rodriguez agreed to plead guilty to Baldwin's murder and disclose his involvement in Rogers's murder. In return, he would be granted immunity from prosecution for Rogers's murder and the state would agree not to seek the death penalty for Baldwin's murder. Rodriguez then confessed to Rogers's murder. Her body was subsequently found in a suitcase in the Lubbock city landfill.
From the media coverage of Rogers's body's discovery, Rodriguez became known as the "suitcase killer."
On the day in October 2006 that the parties went to court to settle the plea agreement, Blackburn informed the court that Rodriguez now claimed that he did not understand anything he was being told. Rodriguez stood before the judge and told him he did not understand any of his questions. As a result, the plea agreement did not go forward. Blackburn withdrew from the case, new counsel was appointed, and the state gave notice of its intention to seek the death penalty.
At Rodriguez's trial, the medical examiner determined the victim's time of death to be early on the morning of Tuesday, 13 September. The cause of death was blunt force trauma and asphyxiation. She had about 50 blunt force wounds on her head, neck, torso, and extremities, the majority of which occurred shortly before or at the time of death. She also had wounds on her genitals, bruises on her thighs, and two black eyes. The medical examiner testified that these injuries were sufficient to cause her death, and while he could not confirm that she died before being placed in the suitcase, she would have died shortly thereafter from "positional asphyxiation," due to her position and placement in the suitcase. He also identified post-death injuries that occurred from the suitcase being transported to the landfill and distinguished those from injuries she sustained before and at the time of her death.
Rodriguez's attorneys argued that the crime was not capital murder because Rodriguez did not sexually assault the victim. Furthermore, even if the jury believed that the state proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodriguez raped the victim, the state did not prove that she died before being placed in the suitcase, which meant there was no proof that her rape and her death were connected.
Julia Ross testified that she began dating Rodriguez when she was fifteen years old and they were both in high school. They began having sex when she was sixteen. She stated that he would sometimes get rough with her and would not stop when she asked him to, even when she screamed, and he raped her on more than one occasion.
Imelda Montana, Jennifer Longmore, and Angelica Gonzales each testified that they were pledges at a co-ed fraternity at Texas Tech University during the Spring 2004 semester. Rodriguez was an active member of the fraternity. Montana testified that he "forced himself" on her after driving her home from a fraternity party and warned her not to tell anyone, or she might get kicked out. Longmore testified that she dated Rodriguez a couple of times and had consensual sex, but "something would switch in his personality" and he would become forceful, scary, and controlling. He also told her to keep their relationship a secret, or she might get kicked out of the fraternity. Gonzales testified that they began dating, but she wished to remain a virgin and they did not have sex. After one occasion where she confronted him about seeing other girls in the fraternity, he told her that he loved her and tried to kiss her. When she rebuffed him, he became aggressive. When she attempted to push him off of her, it was "like he flipped into a different mode" and he sexually assaulted her.
Jennifer Milbeck testified that she met Rodriguez when he took some "glamour shots" of her at the mall just after he turned sixteen. He contacted her afterward, and she allowed to let him come over to her home. When he arrived, he immediately tried to kiss her. Despite her protests, he then pushed her down on her bed and sexually assaulted her.
In order for a killing to be classified as capital murder, one or more aggravating factors must be present. Under Texas law, aggravated sexual assault is one of the qualifying factors. Another one is the murder of more than one person in the same criminal transaction. Summer Baldwin was ten weeks' pregnant at the time of her murder. The prosecution asked the jury to find Rodriguez guilty of capital murder on the basis of her rape as one aggravating factor and her pregnancy as another.
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