LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Rosendo Rodriguez III was found guilty of capital murder in 2008 and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal in 2011. He asked for a stay of execution on Tuesday, based on the actions of Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Sridhar Natarajan.
A Canyon, TX jury sentenced him to death for the 2005 murders of Summer Baldwin and her unborn child. She was beaten and choked to death and her naked body was stuffed inside of a suitcase and thrown into the Lubbock landfill.
He also admitted to killing a Lubbock High School student, 16-year-old Joanna Rogers. Rodriguez, in a taped confession, admitted to killing Rogers, putting her body in a suitcase and throwing it in a dumpster. That prompted a two-month search for her remains at the landfill; the same landfill where Baldwin's body was found. The announcement that Joanna had been found came at a news conference on October 24, 2006.
Seth Kretzer is a Houston-based civil appeals lawyer who began representing Rosendo Rodriguez III in 2013, five years after Rodriguez was convicted of capital murder.
"There has to be a different lawyer at each step of the process because of the potential conflict. So once the state habeas is concluded, they are required to move in federal court for appointment for new federal counsel," Kretzer said.
On November 8, 2017, the trial court signed an order scheduling Rodriguez to be executed at 6 p.m. on March 27, 2018. On Tuesday, Kretzer filed a motion for stay of execution in Lubbock County's 140th District Court.
In the motion, Kretzer stated that counsel needs sufficient time to fully investigate and develop a claim regarding newly discovered evidence.
"As a legal matter, this execution needs to be put off so we can make sure all those I's are dotted and T's are crossed - so that before we take somebody's life, every bit of process that is due to them is afforded," Kretzer said.
Kretzer said he found out about the civil lawsuit filed in 2015 against Lubbock County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sridhar Natarajan just last week.
"That is incredibly problematic because the district attorney's office is obligated by the Brady doctrine to turn over any information to the defendant that helps that defendant," Kretzer said.
The lawsuit filed by Dr. Luisa Florez, a former employee at the Lubbock Medical Examiner's Office, claimed Dr. Natarajan was not performing his own autopsies.
Kretzer's motion cites KCBD's 2017 article, reporting that Lubbock County, Dr. Natarajan and Dr. Florez reached a settlement, in which the county and Dr. Natarajan paid Dr. Florez $320,000.
"They sought the execution date at the same time they paid almost a quarter million dollars to this woman to settle her lawsuit," Kretzer said.
Kretzer said the state's failure to disclose the lawsuit to his office or his client is a Brady violation, "appended to a likely Bullcoming violation."
"He was the same medical examiner who testified in Mr. Rodriguez's case. Mr. Rodriguez, of course, had a self-defense theory. His theory at trial, which he presented to the jury, was that this woman, Summer Baldwin, charged at him and he killed her in self-defense. Now, the jury obviously didn't buy that self-defense theory, but when Dr. Natarajan testified, Mr. Rodriguez has a constitutional right to cross-examine that doctor as to how he did his autopsy," Kretzer said.
Kretzer said when anyone performs a lab test, that defendant has a constitutional right to cross-examine the very person who performed that test.
"We are certainly going to file a clemency petition," Kretzer said. "And then separately, even if the state district judge rules against us, you can be certain we will file a writ of mandamus and prohibition in the court of criminal appeals, in which they have granted several in the last few years," Kretzer said.