SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 29, 2012

Judge mulls sentence in dragging case

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — He dragged his former girlfriend down a Salem street, the length of a football field, with a car. Then, as he fled the scene, he ran over her. His victim spent days in the hospital covered with “road rash” and underwent surgery on a broken elbow.

But how much time should Daniel Rodriguez spend behind bars? And where?

Those were the questions a Salem Superior Court judge was grappling with yesterday during an unusual public “lobby conference” in the case of Commonwealth v. Daniel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, 23, of Jamaica Plain, is charged with multiple assault and battery counts in the incident last Dec. 22 on Federal Street, in the city’s historic McIntire District.

If not for two bystanders, a doctor and an off-duty Treasury agent, the young woman, then 18, might have suffered far-greater injuries that day, after her foot became trapped between the door and the passenger seat of the car Rodriguez had rented. She had been trying to get away from Rodriguez, after he pulled over on North Street and began pummeling her, prosecutor Greg Friedholm said.

The young woman had managed to escape an increasingly controlling and abusive Rodriguez two weeks earlier, after he began limiting her contact with family and friends and beating her. But on the day of the incident, he’d shown up at her home, pleading with her for a chance to talk.

Friedholm believes that Rodriguez should spend eight to 10 years in state prison for the crime.

But Rodriguez’s lawyer, Mark Schmidt, has a dramatically different view of the appropriate punishment, suggesting that his client serve a much-shorter, house-of-correction term. Lowy pointed out that such a sentence would entitle Rodriguez to parole after he served half of it, unlike state prison.

Schmidt pointed to the defendant’s difficult childhood, including periods where he was living with his aunt and grandmother because his own mother was addicted to drugs, and his diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Now it’s up to Judge David Lowy what to offer as a sentence. But with two very disparate sentencing recommendations from the two sides, the judge isn’t sure what to do.

“My usual response in this situation is to say, ‘Let’s impanel a jury,’” the judge told the lawyers.

Schmidt, the defense lawyer, was quick to respond, “This is a case that should not go to trial. The facts are terrible.”

And it’s a strong case, Friedholm argued, with eyewitness testimony from a doctor who first tried to stop the beating in the car, then ran 75 feet after the car yelling for Rodriguez to stop. A second eyewitness, an off-duty Treasury agent, pulled out of the way of the speeding car, then got out, pulled out his badge and stood in the middle of Federal Street ordering Rodriguez to stop. Rodriguez drove around him and disappeared.

But Schmidt, the defense lawyer, argued that Rodriguez should get some benefit for asking to take part in a process to resolve the case short of trial.

The judge agreed that there ought to be an incentive for defendants who accept responsibility early in a case, pointing out that if every defendant insisted on a trial, “we’d have more courthouses than Starbucks.” Still, the judge said, it wasn’t clear how much of an incentive Rodriguez deserved, particularly after it appeared that Schmidt was quibbling over “what he knew and when he knew it.”

The defense suggests that Rodriguez didn’t know his then-18-year-old former girlfriend was dangling from the side of the car as he sped away when the doctor approached, even as both women screamed at him to stop.

But he certainly had to know by the time he turned from North Street onto Federal Street, where he stopped briefly before speeding off again, Friedholm suggested.

“It feels like I’m watching two different movies,” the judge said.

Lowy did say he believes state prison is an appropriate sentence for Rodriguez, but at this point isn’t sure how long to send him there.

He’ll hear from the victim during a hearing on Dec. 10 before making an offer.

Rodriguez is then free to either accept what the judge decides or ask for a trial. Nothing said during yesterday’s hearing can be used against him.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.