A teenage ranch hand who cared for horses at the rural home of Jean Schwartz, a 73-year-old woman found beaten and strangled last year, has been convicted of her sexual assault and murder.
Antonio Rodriguez, who was 18 at the time of Schwartz's slaying in September 1997, was found guilty Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court of killing his employer while committing rape with a foreign object. Schwartz's bloodied, nearly naked body was dumped along a remote road near her Monte Vista Drive home.
The killing of Schwartz, a longtime Topanga resident who had moved to the area with her husband in 1970, shocked the area's tight-knit community. Rodriguez was not arrested until more than three months after the killing, when forensic tests detected Schwartz's blood in the bed of his pickup truck, officials said.
Later, a drop of blood found on the victim's bed was linked to Rodriguez through DNA testing. Prosecutor Barbara Block said the DNA, which matched Rodriguez's genetic profile, could have come from just one in 3.7 billion people.
"The one-two punch, the real linking evidence, was the DNA," Block said after the verdict.
Rodriguez is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 2. Defense attorney Mark Windham said he expects Rodriguez to be given life in prison without the possibility of parole. Rodriguez intends to appeal his conviction, Windham said.
Karen Schwartz, the victim's daughter, said her family had been close friends with the Rodriguez family for many years and had remained so throughout the trial. Martin Rodriguez, the defendant's uncle, had worked as a landscaper and stone mason for the Schwartzes for about a decade, she said.
"The fact that this happened doesn't change our love and respect for the Rodriguez family and our awareness of their pain," she said. "There's no winner here."