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.
"They fucked me around on that," he says. "I went back to DOC [after testifying in the Wood case] and figured I'd be leaving out of state in a few weeks. But nothing happened. I wrote to my attorney and to the CBI and to the district attorney. No one ever answered."
But that didn't mean no one cared what Chris Rodriguez had to say. Frank's attorneys cared a lot--particularly when Chris began declaring that he, and not his brother, killed Lorraine Martelli.
Chris Rodriguez first began openly claiming that he'd stabbed Martelli in 1989--after he'd exhausted all the appeals in his own case. The revelations came in the form of letters to other inmates. Those documents apparently represent his first public declarations of guilt, although Chris says now that he's been trying to confess to the murder since shortly after his 1984 arrest.
Chris claims that he told attorney Diane Carlton of his desire to confess just days after his arrest, but that she talked him out of it. "Yadda, yadda, yadda," Chris says. "You know how lawyers are. I got so confused." So he kept his mouth shut. Carlton says attorney-client privilege prevents her from commenting on Rodriguez's assertion.
And he says that when he met up with Frank in the county jail a short time after the crime, his brother wouldn't allow him to confess, either. "Frank says, `What the fuck are you doing?'" Chris claims. "He was trying to protect his little brother."
Chris's incriminating letters eventually made their way to prosecutors and then to Frank's public defenders. But while prosecutors didn't put any credence in Chris's confessions, Frank's attorneys--who desperately want to prevent Frank from being executed--found them extremely interesting. Chris's long attempt to own up to the Martelli murder finally culminated in a hearing last year before Denver District Judge Federico Alvarez.
The testimony Chris offered at that hearing proved to be a spectacular bust. He said that he and David Martinez stabbed Martelli. But when pressed by Little, he claimed to be unable to recall that his defense at trial had been to blame his brother. He also said he didn't know whether or not his brother had raped Martelli and that he couldn't remember where the murder weapon was found.
Alvarez declined to vacate Frank's death sentence. Frank's attorneys appealed the matter to the Colorado Supreme Court. And Chris is still trying to take responsibility for the murder.
During the recent interview at Canon City, Chris insists he killed the Denver woman. Somehow, in his mind, it's better to have done that than to have raped her--which he now claims he did not do.
"I started to have sexual relations with her," Chris says, "but I never completed the act. I don't know if I caught a case of guilt, or what. But I didn't complete it. I quit. Something just snapped. I said, `No. Never mind,' and I got out of the car.
"It's like the difference between murder and rape," he says, struggling to explain. "They're two different things. Some things are tolerated. Things are understood. Things are forgiven. Like, if I raped a fifty-year-old woman, it's not going to look good. You have to be in prison and understand the prison experience to know. Rape is acceptable, but it's not very much liked. Murder is acceptable."
While Chris was in Denver last year for his brother's hearing, he figured it was a good time to summon police and prosecutors and confess to a couple of other unsolved murders. But he wanted them to first guarantee him a deal--an out-of-state transfer and no death penalty in return for his confessions. It was the same old song--and a no-lose proposition for him. He's already serving a life sentence; what more could they do to him?
The authorities weren't interested, in part because they found Rodriguez's crimes repulsive and in part because they already possessed details about one or more of the cases to which they believed he intended to confess. Based on informants' tips and information gleaned from some of Chris's letters to other inmates, they believed that Chris wanted to talk about the murder of Steven Mitchell, a 71-year-old man stabbed to death in his home in 1978, and about Lillian Olguine, a 27-year-old woman whose decomposing body was found floating in the Platte River in December 1984.
Investigators have tried for years to link Rodriguez to those deaths, Olguine's in particular. They've repeatedly come up short, but they aren't ready to give up. "We don't doubt that he and his brother may have killed one or more people," says Silverman. But if Chris or his brother did commit those murders, authorities don't want to give up the right to ask for the death penalty for the crimes--a condition Chris Rodriguez has attached to any deal. "The important thing is not just to know who did it," says Denver police division chief Tom Haney, "but to have that person prosecuted."
When last year's attempt to confess failed, Chris went back to the drawing board--and to his hated prison cell, where he is locked down 23 hours a day. Recently Rodriguez petitioned prison officials to allow him back into the general population, even promising to sign a waiver holding them blameless should another inmate take violent offense at his habit of snitching. "I would rather face [death] than stay here," Chris says. "This place is maddening." His request was declined.
Three weeks after receiving that response from prison authorities, Chris mailed copies of writs and contracts to two top Denver cops--as well as to Denver mayor Wellington Webb and two local news reporters. He'd drafted the documents himself. Most of them were court orders (the signature portion thoughtfully left blank so that a judge could approve them) permitting him to come to Denver and confess to unsolved murders. In a cover letter he attached to the legal packets, Chris wrote that he has "contemplated suicide numerous times for all the guilt I feel inside myself...the guilt of the murders I have committed and was never tried for. And for being less than a man to admit my guilt and except my due punishment."
But in one of the documents, which he titled "Motion for Proportionality Review to Inform the State of Colorado of Unsolved Multiple Murders," Rodriguez got down to the nitty gritty. "In exchange for any information linking to these unsolved multiple murders, I would like to strike a deal prior to any information given for my complete cooperation," he wrote.
Rodriguez explains that he'll confess only if he's allowed to transfer to an out-of-state prison. His snitch jacket here makes it too dangerous for him to stay, he says. "I can't do my time here," he says. "I know [that confessing] is a drastic move, a pretty desperate move. But it's the only move I've got left. All I want is to do my time. All I want is to get out of the state of Colorado. I've never asked to go to a medium- or minimum-security prison. It's not like I'm asking for twenty years off my sentence. It's not like I'm asking them to let me watch their sister."
Chris's missives to the authorities worked. Sort of. He was brought up from Canon City to Denver twelve days ago for yet another chat with his old foes at the district attorney's office and the police department. "But we refused to make him any promises," Silverman says, "and that pretty much ended things."
Police and prosecutors continue to cling to the hope that they'll be able to hang one or more of those unsolved murders on Chris without his help--and without a deal. "If we get enough evidence to convict Chris on the Olguine case," says Sergeant Kirk Hon, "he could end up getting off his life sentence and onto death row."
There's not much likelihood of that happening, especially eleven years after the fact, admits Hon. Even if it did, he adds, the Rodriguez brothers would probably just use it as an excuse for a new round of last-minute confessions. "Frank would then turn around and say he he did it just to protect Chris," suggests Hon. "They're working every angle they can to protect each other. Chris and Frank are always working the system."
end of part 2
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.