Gonzalez grocery killer gets 33 years
July 8, 2010 · Print This Article
By Brad Dicken
Chronicle – Telegram editor
ELYRIA – Decio Rodrigues avoided the death penalty Wednesday when a three-judge panel found him not guilty of aggravated murder for killing Lorain shopkeeper Jose Gonzalez Sr. during a botched robbery on Jan. 25, 2008.
Decio Rodrigues hangs his head as the family of slain Lorain store owner Jose Gonzalez Sr. speaks Wednesday during Rodrigues’ murder trial. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)
But the judges didn’t vindicate Rodrigues, 26, instead sentencing him to 33 years to life in prison on the charges they did find him guilty of – murder, felonious assault, aggravated robbery, theft and having weapons under disability.
Rodrigues apologized for killing Gonzalez before the sentence was imposed.
“It’s unfortunate and I apologize honestly, and I just hope you’re able to move on,” he said.
Antonio Gonzalez, one of the slain shopkeeper’s sons, said after the sentencing hearing that he was satisfied that justice was done in the case with the lengthy prison sentence that will keep Rodrigues behind bars for years to come.
He said he could have wished for the death penalty, but didn’t.
“We didn’t wish to carry that hate,” the younger Gonzalez said.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Rodrigues had planned to rob Gonzalez Grocery for days before he walked in the door of the small family market on the corner of Lexington Avenue and West 26th Street. He was armed with the handle of a car jack.
Defense attorney James Kersey didn’t deny that Rodrigues had planned to rob the store, but insisted that Rodrigues never intended to kill Gonzalez.
He said Gonzalez pulled a five-shot, .38-caliber revolver he kept under the cash register and a struggle for the gun ensued between the two men.
During the struggle, he said, Gonzalez was shot when the gun went off. “It was Deci or it was the victim in this case,” Kersey said during his closing argument before the judges adjourned to deliberate their verdict for about three hours.
Assistant Lorain County prosecutors Tony Cillo and Laura Dezort rejected that argument.
“It belies all reason and common sense to suggest Jose Gonzalez shot himself four times,” Cillo said.
Dezort said even if Rodrigues didn’t mean to kill Gonzalez, when he walked into the store that’s what happened.
“One person was going to walk out of there alive, and he made sure it was him,” she said.
Gonzalez’s family, before the judges handed down the sentence, said that they understood hard times, but that Rodrigues had a choice.
“You could have at any point in time turned around and run,” said Gonzalez’s daughter, Lilliam Gonzalez. “You always had the option of walking away.”
Jose Gonzalez Jr. said his father would help out anyone who needed it.
He said his father had a stack of “tabs” he kept under the counter for people he knew who had come in to ask for groceries.
The elder Gonzalez knew he would never get paid for the groceries, but he gave them to people anyway.
He would have done the same for Rodrigues, who told police he was a regular customer of the grocery store, Jose Gonzalez Jr. said.
“If he had gone in there and asked for some help, he might have got it rather than trying to take it,” he said.
Although the trial wrapped up Thursday there is still a pending issue – a legal battle over how the threejudge panel was selected.
County Prosecutor Dennis Will had asked the Ohio Supreme Court to halt the trial because the county’s admin-istrative judge and chief justice, Edward Zaleski, named himself and fellow Judge James Miraldi to the panel along with Judge James Burge.
Prosecutors contend that Zaleski doesn’t have that authority and the panel should have been randomly selected by Presiding Judge Mark Betleski.
Burge said Wednesday that he believes the case Will filed in the Supreme Court is now moot because the trial is over and Rodrigues has been sentenced.
Will said he needs to review the Supreme Court case before he decides whether to pursue the issue.
Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or firstname.lastname@example.org.