Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Execution of Rodrigo Hernandez

Though it is likely that Rodrigo Hernandez was factually guilty of the crime for which he was executed, I nonetheless opposed the execution. I opposed the execution because Hernandez was convicted in part on a disputed confession which the police failed to record. I'm weary of our justice system condoning such failure to preserve evidence and / or the willful manufacture of evidence.

One commenter provided a link to an article about Hernandez that I had not read. The article provided some additional information regarding both the alleged confession and the DNA evidence. First the DNA info:
With no sign of Verstegen or her 1991 Pontiac Firebird, a massive search began:  ... Susan Verstegen's brother-in-law and her boyfriend, Douglas Kirchner, found the Firebird. A handprint was on the driver's side door and “dragging finger marks were on the inside of the back window,” made by “smaller fingers,” according to police records. A wet spot was on the back seat.
Police cut the wet fabric and filed it as evidence, along with soil samples from beneath the car, cigarette wrappers, latent fingerprints, vacuum samples, the drum, nail clippings and swabs from Verstegen's body. ...
Four years later, when the national DNA system was established, the evidence was submitted. Monney would continue to get letters from SAPD detectives informing him they'd reopened the case. Four investigators took it up at different times.
Though they still do not make clear the nature of the DNA link to Hernandez, one might guess that they found Hernandez's DNA on the vaginal swab taken from the victim. This guess could be reinforced by Hernandez claim that he and the victim had consensual sex but that he did not kill her.
Hernandez now says he and Susan Verstegen had a months-long casual sexual relationship after they met at an H-E-B where he worked ...
It's the additional information about the alleged confession that most attracted my attention.
Almost by chance, Hernandez was linked to Verstegen's death in 2002, eight years after her half-naked body was found stuffed in a 55-gallon drum at a church.As a condition of his parole for an assault in Grand Rapids, Hernandez had to submit a DNA sample for a local, state and national database called CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. When a match was found,George Saidler, then a San Antonio Police Department cold case detective who had reopened the probe in 2000, visited Hernandez in a Michigan jail. 
After about 20 minutes, Saidler recalled, Hernandez asked a Michigan officer to leave the room, then confessed to killing Verstegen, a single mother interested in photography who worked for Frito-Lay. 
“He gave me the facts of the case that only the killer had known,” said Saidler, now an investigator with the Bexar County district attorney's office. 
“He gave (the confession) up pretty easily to me. He had some tears, but I couldn't say if he was shedding tears for himself or for the victim.”
Not only did the Texas Rangers not record the interview, a Michigan police officer left the room just before Hernandez allegedly confessed. I find it extremely odd that Hernandez would insist a Michigan police officer leave the room as a condition of confessing to capital murder to two Texas Rangers. It sounds fishy. Of course I don't know if it is fishy, because no one bothered to preserve the evidence. That's the whole point.

Now I read this article about Rodriguez's execution that says he finally confessed to killing both woman in Texas and the woman in Michigan he was linked to by his DNA.
Right to the end, death-row inmate Rodrigo Hernandez – suspected in a 1991 killing in Grand Rapids – hoped for a last-minute reprieve. 
When it became apparent that wouldn't happen, Hernandez, who once lived here, admitted he shot and killed Muriel Stoepker, 77, near Grand Rapids Community College campus, and raped and strangled Susan Verstegen, 38, whose killing in San Antonio led to his execution Thursday. 
“I can tell you, Mr. Hernandez did not want (the execution) to happen,” Michigan State Police detective Sgt. Sally Wolter said Friday. 
Just minutes before his execution Thursday night, Rodrigo Hernandez confessed to the 1991 killing of Stoepker and 1994 killing of Verstegen, police said. He was put to death in Huntsville, Texas. ... 
Police in 2010 tried to talk to Hernandez, but he refused pending the outcome of appeals. After appeals were exhausted, police again tried to talk to Hernandez. He admitted to having sexual relations with Stoepker, but said he did not kill her. 
Wolter said Stoepker’s family took comfort in knowing that the person who killed her finally took responsibility. Police were confident based on the scientific evidence, but also wanted to rule out the possibility any others were involved. 
Wolter said police are confident Hernandez acted alone. She said that once Hernandez realized that the execution would occur, he consented to an interview with Texas Rangers and admitted to the killings. He told police that he had a gun that accidentally went off, killing Stoepker. 
“I think for the Stoepker family, and also for the family in Texas, the Verstegen family, he has now admitted responsibility for the crimes. That was their hope, for (the killer) to take responsibility and show some remorse,” Wolter said. 
She said it helps families to know “they have the right guy.” 
The Metro Cold Case Team, comprised of Grand Rapids police, Kent County sheriff's deputies and state police, also took satisfaction in the confession. Between his statements and physical evidence, police have determined he alone killed Stoepker and can close the case.
Hernandez, 38, maintained his innocence through it all. 
“It still doesn't seem real. I did not commit this murder; I'll take that to the grave,” he told the San Antonio Express-News recently.
Now Texas claims to have two confessions from Hernandez. They have the unrecorded confession, in the handwriting of a Texas Ranger, taken after Hernandez asked the Michigan police to leave the room. They also have a confession, apparently unrecorded, taken just before Hernandez was executed and soon after Hernandez claimed he would never confess.

I figured since Hernandez had finally decided to confess, he would mention it in his final statement, the one that is recorded. He might apologize to the victim's family. He might ask for forgiveness. But he did not. As best as I can find, here are his final words.

I want to tell everybody in the world I love everybody. Keep your heads up. We are all family, people of God Almighty. We're all good. I'm ready. This stuff stings, man.
So we have yet to hear Hernandez confess. We have only heard him say that he didn't do it, that he didn't confess, and that he would never confess. We have, however, been assured by the Texas police that he did confess, twice, to them and them only. And now they can magically close the other case as well, which they couldn't do if Hernandez had not conveniently and temporarily confessed.

Record the damn interviews.

Preserve the damn evidence.

I maintain my objection to the execution of Rodrigo Hernandez.


Anonymous said...

The state of Texas is smart, they understand maintaining the legitimacy of capital punishment requires obfuscation of the investigative and legal process, of evidence, and of any doubts it’s possible an innocent could be executed.

Unfortunately, the reported last minute confession by the police is incredulous.

Anonymous said...

You can find a tape of it on the internet, you idiot. You people who love murderers are the ones who defy all credibility.

tsj said...

Please provide a link to the confession tape.

Anonymous said...

Recorded confession to both murders here.

tsj said...

Thank you for the link. I'll post about this within a week or so.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody happen to know the nationality of Rodrigo Hernandez? Was he Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, or some other nationality?

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