In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

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When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many r…

Execution stay chances wither for Lubbock's 'suitcase killer' Rosendo Rodriguez

Rosendo Rodriguez
The man infamously known in Lubbock and the nation as the "suitcase killer" remains on track to be executed Tuesday - a day after his 38th birthday.

Rosendo Rodriguez's chances for a stay of execution withered Friday with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denying his claims for a new appeal.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has the authority to commute his death sentence, is essentially Rodriguez's unlikely hope to escape death by lethal injection. However, on Friday members of the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 6-0, with one recusal, against recommending to Abbott that his sentence be commuted.

Earlier in the week, Lubbock Judge Jim Bob Darnell and justices with the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals rejected Rodriguez's new appeals, which included pleas for a stay of execution.

Rodriguez would be the 11th Lubbock County defendant to be executed.

Rodriguez's execution will conclude a decade's old homicide case that began in 2005 when Lubbock landfill workers found the body of 29-year-old Summer Baldwin stuffed in a suitcase.

A UPC code found on the bag was the 1st clue that led investigators to identify Baldwin's killer as Rodriguez, a Marine reservist from San Antonio who was in Lubbock for training.

He was arrested at his parent's residence in San Antonio.

He told investigators he took Baldwin, who was a prostitute, to his hotel in Lubbock where the 2 had consensual sex. He said Baldwin attacked him with a knife after using drugs and used his combat training to place her in a choke hold until she passed out. After checking her pulse, he believed she was dead and he bought a suitcase from Walmart, stuffed her body in it and placed her in a landfill.

At his capital murder trial, prosecutors accused Rodriguez of raping Baldwin and killing her.

Dr. Sridhar Natarajan, the county medical examiner, told jurors he found more than 70 blunt-force injuries on Baldwin's body. Her injuries also indicated she was raped.

However, Natarajan couldn't provide an exact cause of death and said Baldwin, who was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, could have been alive while she was in the suitcase and suffocated to death.

Rodriguez also admitted the to the 2004 killing 16-year-old Joanna Rogers, who was reported missing in 2004. She was found two years later in a Lubbock landfill, stuffed in a suitcase. He also claimed to have acted in self-defense in that case, saying the girl attacked him after they had sex because he refused to pay her.

Jurors in 2008 convicted Rodriguez of capital murder for Baldwin's killing. They deliberated for 2 1/2 hours before returning with a death sentence.

A decades-long appeal process in state and federal courts followed without success. In November, Darnell issued Rodriguez's death warrant.

A month before his execution, his attorneys filed a motion for a stay of execution and a new appeal that accused Natarajan of falsifying records. The appeal cited a 2015 whistleblower lawsuit filed by Natarajan's former employee accusing him of improperly managing the medical examiner's office. The employee accused Natarajan of delegating autopsies to "untrained" technicians and backdating autopsy reports.

The lawsuit was settled out of court with a quarter-million dollar payment to the former employee, who signed an affidavit saying her claims did not dispute the office's scientific findings.

Rodriguez's lawyers accused prosecutors of hiding the lawsuit from them.

Matt Powell, the Lubbock County District Attorney, called the new appeals "nonsense."

Justices with the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the whistleblower lawsuit failed to provide a reason to overturn the conviction and death sentence.

Source:  Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Gabriel Monte, March 24, 2018

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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