Both men claimed the other was the aggressor
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - It took a jury less than two hours to acquit a Windsor man with a long history of drug use and drug dealing on charges that he attempted to knife the grandfather of his children during a dispute that took place last fall near the Cumberland Farms store in Windsor.
Luis “Pops” Rodriguez, 33, has been held in pre-trial detention since his arrest this January after police finally located him in Claremont, New Hampshire. Rodriguez had been facing the prospect of up to life in prison as a habitual offender and, although he has some unrelated lesser charges that are still pending, he is expected to move for release at an as-yet unscheduled hearing in the coming days.
Neither side disputed that a knife appeared and a struggle broke out between Jimmy Morse, 53, and Rodriguez on the evening of November 25th, 2017 but each man claimed it was the other who had brought the knife with them to a trailer down by the railroad tracks.
Jimmy Morse, 53, of Windsor testified that Rodriguez tried to push a knife into his throat
During the two-day-long trail the jury was confronted with witnesses, including Morse, who insisted that Rodriguez had appeared out of nowhere and jumped Morse, allegedly because of lingering anger over a drug transaction between the pair that had gone wrong weeks beforehand.
The fight ended with Rodriguez kneeing Morse hard in the nose, breaking it and leaving him with two black eyes. But, while Morse insisted that Rodriguez had been intent on knifing him and said that Rodriguez only fled after being startled by another man’s appearance, Rodriguez took the stand Thursday and testified that it was Morse who was trying to stab him and that as soon as he connected with his knee Morse dropped the knife allowing Rodriguez time to flee.
Morse showed jurors photos of the black eyes he sustained after getting a knee to the face
Things looked increasingly bad for Rodriguez throughout much of the trial as Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill played jailhouse phone recordings in which Rodriguez seemed to chuckle and acknowledge that he had been “beating” on Morse and other people around Windsor. However, in an impassioned, if rambling, turn on the witness stand Thursday morning in his own defense Rodriguez managed to describe himself as someone who admittedly had struggled through a wide variety of drug use over the years, selling it along the way as well, but at the same time he managed to dispute bits and pieces of all the other witnesses testimony.
On the stand, Rodriguez gave a dramatic portrait of his life around Windsor laced with rap-style slang and the occasional swear words, for which he immediately apologized, at times addressing the jury directly and at others wiping away tears.
Rodriguez testified that he thought Morse was going to stab him so he struggled and then fled
At one point, unprompted, Rodriguez put his foot up on the edge of the witness box and pulled up his pant’s cuff to show the jury the needle track marks still left on his leg from injecting heroin, saying that proved he was primarily a drug user rather than a dealer. “Drug dealers don’t have this!” Rodriguez insisted before Judge Timothy Tomasi ordered him to sit back down.
Rodriguez’s colorful asides and argumentative answers to some of the questions he was being asked by Cahill led the state’s attorney to end a number of the morning's questions with “Mr. Rodriguez, stop talking!” as Judge Tomasi repeated explained that he would have his own chance to expand on his points when it was the defense’s turn to do cross-examination.
Although some witnesses saw portions of the struggle involving the knife, no one other than Morse and Rodriguez claimed to have seen the entire sequence of events and so during his closing argument Rodriguez’s defense attorney, Brice Simon of Stowe, followed his client’s lead and hammered at the inconsistencies among the handful of witnesses, most of whom admitted that at various times they had been addicted to drugs and some of whom said they were out on the night of the assault trying to score heroin.
Windsor Police Detective Dan Silver defended his department's handing of the investigation
Simon urged the jurors to discard all of the conflicting accounts and simply rest their decision on Rodriguez’s standing presumption of innocence rather than trying to untangle what had happened in the dark that night and after 90 minutes of deliberation it appeared that the jury may have done just that.
Speaking afterwards outside the courthouse Cahill noted, “It’s was a difficult case for us because assaults of this nature happen in an underworld where everyone has a checkered past. It is difficult to convince a jury of anything beyond a reasonable doubt when all of your witnesses have lied in the past, are lying about something right now, and are probably going to lie in the future.”
Rodriguez reacts to the "not guilty" verdicts late Thursday afternoon
Simon, the defense attorney, said Rodriguez was both relieved and pleased with the outcome.
“This was a difficult case, for both sides, because the witnesses told very different versions of events,” he noted. “We are just thankful in our great country that we have a right to a jury trial because in this case the jury is really what saved the day and helped vindicate the defendant.”
“This is one of those situation where it certainly could have gone either way depending on which facts and witnesses were believed,” Simon continued, “Mr. Rodriguez is extremely grateful that the jurors saw that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to convict him of these charges and he’s just hopeful that he can get back to his family and try to move on with his life.”
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