by Don Maines
RICHMOND — On September 4, a Houston man was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison for his part in the slaying of a man he and two others reportedly picked up in May 2006 at a gay bar in Montrose, then robbed and killed in Sugar Land.
Luis Carlos Rodriguez, now 36, immediately announced his intention to appeal the conviction, which followed a week of testimony in Fort Bend County’s 240th District Court.
Arnulfo Quintero Aguilar, 43, was found dead around 12:15 a.m. on May 28, 2006, in the Townewest subdivision of Sugar Land. He was bound with a dog leash, a nylon cord, a knotted TV cable, and neckties that joined his left ankle to both wrists, according to an autopsy report. Police said Aguilar had been beaten with a blunt object, his house was ransacked, and his red 1997 Jeep Cherokee was stolen.
Rodriguez was implicated by a co-defendant, Alberto Ramos, who confessed that he, Rodriguez, and a third man whom police identified as Alonso Guerra, went to the Montrose Mining Company for the purpose of befriending someone and robbing him. Ramos was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while Guerra remains at large on an arrest warrant that was issued eight years ago.
When Rodriguez was arrested on February 23, 2007, he allegedly admitted to police that he “punched the deceased in the face and broke his nose and helped tie him up,” said his attorney, James A. Stevens of Richmond.
“The majority of his confession is in Spanish,” said Fort Bend County assistant district attorney Stuti Trehan Patel, “but, in summary, he places himself at the scene as a participant. In Texas, there’s not a distinction—whether you say [you’re] the main guy or a participant, you are just as guilty.”
Rodriguez also confessed to hitting the victim with a baseball bat, said Stevens. “Each guy said the other guy hit [the victim] first.”
Stevens said he doubts the State’s theory that the killers picked up Aguilar for the initial purpose of robbing him.
“It’s a little confusing,” he said. “Basically, they said ‘We did this, but it just kind of happened.’ Another thing is that they seemed to have been at the scene for an extended period of time, maybe an hour or more, because it appears that they drank wine and ate popcorn. If you’re following someone home to rob him, you do it as soon as the coast is clear. All indications are that the parties were there awhile before any robbery happened.”
“Something clearly went wrong,” said Patel.
The State claimed that Rodriguez, who hails from Monterey, Texas, has a history of public intoxication and has gone by several aliases, including Efrain Rivas, Frank Rivas, and Jose Alvarado Vasquez-Ochoa.
State prosecutors offered Ramos a plea bargain after he claimed that his confession was coerced. Among other reasons, Ramos contended that police threatened him with the death penalty, although as a 17-year-old, he was too young to be sentenced to death if convicted.
In May, Ramos was returned to Fort Bend County on a bench warrant from the William G. McConnell Unit in Beeville, Texas, to testify in the trial against Rodriguez. However, Patel wrote to the court, “The State interviewed co-defendant Alberto Ramos, who stated that he had lied in his previous statements to law enforcement, that he doesn’t remember everything he stated to law enforcement, that he was coerced by law enforcement, and that he was under the influence of drugs during the previous statements.”
Rodriguez moved to suppress his own statement to police, with Stevens contending that it’s obvious from the English translation of Rodriguez’s confession in Spanish that he didn’t “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily” waive his Miranda rights. Several times in the interview with police, Stevens explained, Rodriguez asked, “Where’s the attorney?” and his question was ignored by interrogators.
The original videotape of Rodriguez’s confession reportedly went missing from the Fort Bend district attorney’s office several years ago. But visiting Judge F. Lee Duggan Jr., of Houston, ruled that both a supposed copy of the videotape and an English transcription would be admitted as evidence.
A jury found Rodriguez guilty of capital murder. The sentence of life in prison was automatic.