A 43-year-old man twice convicted of murder in the killing of a pregnant woman and her unborn child in Fullerton pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Friday and was sentenced to time already served behind bars.
Henry Rodriguez was convicted in 2000 of first-degree murder and a count of second-degree murder, as well as a count of conspiracy to commit murder under a legal theory of aiding and abetting. In 2003, appellate court justices reversed the conviction based on the way authorities obtained a confession from the defendant.
In 2006, he went on trial again and was convicted and sentenced to 40 years to life.
The confidential informant scandal that arose out of the prosecution of Scott Dekraai, the most prolific mass killer in the county’s history, led to Rodriguez’s attorney winning a new trial.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the plea deal with prosecutors. As part of the deal, two counts of murder and a count of conspiracy were dismissed.
He was sentenced to 17 years in prison, but his attorney, James Crawford, said his client had credits for about 20 years behind bars.
“Justice is finally done,” Crawford said. “It was a fair and just resolution reached after 20 years.”
Crawford was not Rodriguez’s attorney in his first trial, but represented him on the first appeal, second jury trial and second appeal.
“It’s the oldest case in my office,” he said.
Rodriguez, who has been out on bail for four years, “is relieved to have everything behind him.”
He now has a full-time job at a hotel.
Crawford tried to get the case tossed on allegations of outrageous governmental misconduct, but Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett ruled against that motion earlier this year, Crawford said.
The issue in Rodriguez’s case was whether the defendant was denied a fair trial in 2006 when retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Frank Fasel allowed the testimony of jailhouse informant Michael Garrity.
An attorney for the county argued in March 2005 that there were no records on Garrity’s work as a confidential informant. Later that day, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department produced what’s known as TRED records, which track inmate movements in the jail system, and Fasel looked them over in private and ruled they should be turned over to Rodriguez’s attorney.
Those records, however, were never given to Crawford, former Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals ruled in 2016. Goethals has since been appointed to the Appellate Court.
Retired Senior Deputy District Attorney Cameron Talley, now a defense attorney, argued during Rodriguez’s retrial that Garrity told authorities about the July 17, 1998, murder of eight-months-pregnant Jeanette Espeleta because it was the right thing to do, not because he had a longstanding agreement to inform and was receiving benefits from prosecutors to do so.
Goethals ruled that Crawford should have had the information about Garrity’s work as a snitch so he could, first of all, try to get him eliminated as a witness in the trial for possibly violating Rodriguez’s constitutional rights or impeach his credibility at trial.
Also at issue is whether Garrity pumped Rodriguez for information while in custody, which would have been illegal because he had an attorney at that time.
Garrity, however, could legally relay bragging by Rodriguez or some other unprompted statement about the crimes to authorities.
The legal theory in the case was that Rodriguez helped a friend — the father of the unborn child — kill the victim so he wouldn’t have to pay child support.
Investigators believe Espeleta was killed and her body, which was never recovered, dumped in the ocean from a boat.
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