By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
part 2 of 2
Chris started informing on other inmates almost immediately after arriving back in the joint. He once allegedly turned in another inmate for smoking pot in return for a promise that he could make a few phone calls. His propensity to tattle was common knowledge among the inmates, a fact that caused him some rocky times. When Chris heard that one inmate had accused him of testifying against Frank in the Martelli case, he quashed the loose talk with a threat. "You got something to say to me?" he asked the gossip. "You prove it, motherfucker, or I'll kill you."
For the most part, though, life in prison after his murder conviction wasn't all that bad. He says he had ready access to pot, booze and cash. While at the Limon prison in the early 1990s, he belonged to the Mexican Connection, a group of inmates that, he claims, essentially ran the prison, chose the guards and slept with the female corrections officers.
Things became dangerously uncomfortable for Chris only in 1992, when his snitching hit the big time. On April 1 of that year, Limon inmate Philip Rose was found dead in his cell, suffocated by a plastic bag. Inmate David Wood was accused of killing him. Three months later, twenty-year-old Daniel Shettler turned up dead in his cell. This time, a trio of inmates--Clifton Blecha, Roger Younger and James Green--stood accused. And a year later, Chris Rodriguez surfaced as the prime witness in both cases ("Murder Incarcerated," May 5, 1993).
According to court records, Rodriguez met with agents of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation three times in June 1992. After those meetings, Chris was moved to Centennial prison (where the murder suspects had also been sent) and was placed on the same cell block as Blecha and Wood. Wood's attorneys would later claim in court documents that Rodriguez's transfer was part of a deal under which the CBI "agreed to certain concessions for Mr. Rodriguez." One such concession, Rodriguez would later admit in court, was that after testifying, he would be transferred to an out-of-state prison and that his name would be changed.
When Rodriguez next met with CBI agents, in October of that year, he had great news for them--both Wood and Blecha, he announced, had confessed to him. The following month, Wood was charged with Rose's murder and Chris Rodriguez was transferred to the tiny Lincoln County Jail in Hugo. The move to such a relaxed setting was highly unusual, and Wood's attorneys suspected Chris had been given the new digs as a payoff. Prison officials, however, insisted that Rodriguez was moved for his own safety.
In Hugo, Rodriguez was made a trustee and given the run of the place. He was allowed to leave the jail unencumbered by handcuffs or leg irons in order to help the janitor with chores. He was even allowed to earn some walking-around money by washing deputies' personal cars.
The idyllic arrangement ended in February 1993, says Lincoln County sheriff LeRoy Yowell, when deputies found that Rodriguez had smuggled bullets into his jail cell. Rodriguez was unceremoniously hauled back to Canon City, where guards observing him in a special isolation cell discovered that he had arrived with contraband in his rectum: six more bullets and $117 that he'd stolen from the Lincoln County Jail commissary.
Rodriguez contends that he was sent back to prison as part of a deeper conspiracy. He claims that at Lincoln County he'd been covering for a deputy who liked to steal boxes of frozen dinners. In return for his silence, Chris says, he was allowed to mingle with the female inmates and spend quality time with them. He also claims that he was given free rein in the jail armory, where he found the bullets.
Yowell says all of Rodriguez's claims were investigated and found to be untrue. "All my employees were exonerated," he says, "and the female inmates said nothing ever happened with Chris." The bullets, Yowell says, apparently came from a jailer's car, one that Rodriguez had washed. He says there was no way Chris could have gotten into the armory. "There's only two keys to that," he says. "I have one, and the undersheriff has one."
Within weeks of leaving his sweet setup in Hugo, Rodriguez recanted his testimony in both the Rose and Shettler cases. He left a loophole, though, indicating that he might be persuaded to change his mind yet again if he was given what he wanted--an out-of-state transfer.
"When they said they was going to reinstate the old deal, I recanted the recanting," Rodriguez explains. "So everything was fine and dandy."
Chris did end up testifying in the Wood case, for what little good it did. The jury found that he and two other inmates who testified were not credible, and Wood was acquitted. (Wood has since been released from prison and has reportedly left the state.)
By the time the Shettler case came to trial, Rodriguez's testimony was considered worthless and, according to Rodriguez, he was never called to testify. Younger was acquitted. Blecha was found guilty. James Green eventually pleaded guilty. And Chris Rodriguez stayed right where he was, in the maximum-security prison in Canon City, a fact that angers him still.