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Wife Gets Death for Killing Husband

The Montebello woman poisoned her spouse with antifreeze to collect insurance money.

January 13, 2004|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

Three months after Angelina and Frank Rodriguez got married, the Montebello woman took out a $250,000 life insurance policy on her husband and began trying to kill him.

First, authorities said, she fed him poisonous oleander plants, sending him to the hospital with an upset stomach. Then, she allegedly loosened the gas cap on the clothes dryer at their home before leaving to visit a friend in San Luis Obispo. Finally, Rodriguez spiked her husband's Gatorade with shots of green antifreeze.

Frank Rodriguez, a special education teacher, died on Sept. 9, 2000, with a lethal amount of antifreeze in his body. Three years later, Angelina Rodriquez was convicted of his murder.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William R. Pounders on Monday sentenced Rodriguez to death, saying that she killed her husband in an "exceptionally cruel and callous" way and that her guilt had been proved to "an absolute certainty."

"In the past 20 years, I have never seen a colder heart," Pounders told the defendant.

Rodriguez, 35, begged for leniency Monday, insisting she didn't kill her husband and at times clashing with the judge.

"I have lived my life with integrity," she said in an hourlong speech in court. "I broke and made a few terrible, stupid mistakes that I regret very much.... But murder is not on that list."

Rodriguez blamed her attorney for preventing her from testifying during her trial and said there was no way she could have made her husband drink antifreeze.

"Are you suggesting he took it on his own?" Judge Pounders asked incredulously.

"I know he did," Rodriguez replied. Then she challenged the judge: "Would your wife be able to hand you a cup of antifreeze?"

Pounders denied motions for a new trial and reduction of sentence. As he pronounced the death sentence, making Rodriguez the 15th woman on California's death row, she let out a heavy sigh and tapped her foot rapidly.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Doug Sortino said outside court that Rodriguez blamed the slaying on a former co-worker and fabricated evidence in a failed attempt to get investigators to arrest him. "She's a remorseless, coldblooded killer, and that's why she's in the position she is in today," he said.

Court-appointed defense attorney David Houchin said he tried to remain objective and present the best possible defense, despite his client's constant accusations against him. "No one wants to have one on death row," he said outside court.

Hours after her husband's death, Rodriguez called her insurance company, but an agent told her she wouldn't receive any money until the coroner determined the cause of death. She later called an investigator and said she had received an anonymous phone call suggesting that her husband died from antifreeze poisoning, prosecutors said. Cellphone records show that she never received such a call, authorities said.

Police arrested Rodriguez in Paso Robles in February 2001. "Her relentlessness in her effort to pursue her goals was matched only by her stupidity," Sortino said Monday.

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Rodriguez had complained to a friend about her marital problems and talked of killing her husband instead of divorcing him in order to receive the life insurance money. Prosecutors also charged her with soliciting someone to kill that witness scheduled to testify against her. The jurors deadlocked on that count but found her guilty of threatening the witness.

Witnesses also testified about the 1993 death of Rodriguez's 13-month-old baby, who died after swallowing part of a pacifier. The judge said Rodriguez received 60% of a $710,000 settlement in her daughter's death, after filing a civil suit against the manufacturer. But a prosecution expert testified that medical records indicated that Rodriguez broke the pacifier herself and pushed part of it into her baby's throat to suffocate her, authorities said.

Rodriguez has not been charged in connection with her daughter's death. Los Angeles prosecutors said Monday that they sent information on the case to investigators in Santa Barbara County, where the death occurred. But Pounders called the baby's death a "calculated murder" that reflected Rodriguez's "desire to murder family members for financial gain."

Jurors convicted Rodriguez of murder in October, along with the special allegations that she killed her husband for financial gain and used poison as the murder weapon. Those allegations made her eligible for the death penalty.

After returning a verdict of death in November, during the trial's penalty phase, jurors said they were influenced by Rodriguez's lack of remorse. Pounders echoed that sentiment.

Rodriguez apologized for lying and pointing the finger at somebody else, but said without emotion, "I don't have remorse for a murder I didn't do."

The case automatically goes to the California Supreme Court on appeal.

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