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part 1 of 2 Chris Rodriguez pops up from his plastic chair and begins to pace the length of the interview room at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City. His voice ebbs and flows as he walks the three steps from the window to the door and back again,...
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Chris Rodriguez pops up from his plastic chair and begins to pace the length of the interview room at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City. His voice ebbs and flows as he walks the three steps from the window to the door and back again, contemplating what he sees as the absurdity of it all. Rodriguez, serving a life term for one of Denver's most notorious murders, says he desperately wants to confess to two other homicides--maybe three. He's been trying to unburden himself for more than a year now. But for reasons he doesn't quite seem to understand, the authorities aren't interested.

"What's their trip?" asks Rodriguez, his scorn evident. "They don't like me? Why? Because I'm a murderer? They gotta get past that. They don't like me because I'm a killer. Other than that, what reason do they have? Don't they want to know the truth?"

The fact is that "they"--Rodriguez's shorthand for the courts, prosecutors and select members of the Denver Police Department--would love to know the truth. They'd love to close the books on those murders and tell the family of each victim that they've finally solved the case and found the killer. But the authorities know better than to hope for that kind of conclusion. Rodriguez's offers always come with a price tag attached, and paying that price doesn't always guarantee them the truth. Chris Rodriguez may well have information that could help authorities close the books on a number of crimes. But he's also one of the biggest con men in the Colorado state penal system.

At age 35, Chris Rodriguez has mastered the art of the jailhouse deal. From the time he was a juvenile, he has always proved willing to implicate a friend or family member in one crime or another--or, for that matter, to confess to a crime himself. When Rodriguez grew older, prison investigators seeking incriminating information on other inmates learned they could usually turn to Rodriguez for help. All he asked in return was a more lenient sentence or some special prison perk.

Over the years Rodriguez has confessed--and then withdrawn his confessions--on a number of occasions. He's offered up crucial and damaging information on other inmates, only to retract his statements--and then offer to cooperate yet again in a perverse game of Keep Away. Once Rodriguez supplied a written murder confession to another inmate in exchange for a bag of marijuana. The plan was for the other inmate to turn the incriminating letter over to prison officials and earn a reward for snitching. Instead, the confession sent investigators on a wild goose chase, searching for buried bodies that didn't exist.

Rodriguez's lack of veracity notwithstanding, prosecutors have used him as a key witness in two in-house prison murders since 1990. He volunteered to testify, of course, only after being offered a deal. His testimony in those cases garnered him all sorts of special treats, including four months' lodging in a cozy county jail, where he was allowed to work outside the building and managed to steal bullets from a deputy's car before being sent back to the state pen.

After two decades, though, it appears that Rodriguez's dealing days are over. His latest plea to come clean did earn him a trip to Denver twelve days ago for another chat with police and prosecutors. But Rodriguez was sent back to Canon City empty-handed.

In what may be one of the few unselfish acts of Rodriguez's life, he is now trying to take responsibility for the 1984 murder of Denver bookkeeper Lorraine Martelli, the crime for which he is serving a life term as an accomplice and for which his older brother Frank, convicted of stabbing Martelli 28 times, has been given the death penalty. Prosecutors maintain that Rodriguez's new claim that he actually wielded the knife is a transparent attempt to confuse the issues and get his brother off death row. A Denver judge concurred with that opinion in a special hearing requested by defense attorneys for Frank Rodriguez in March 1994.

The prosecutors' refusal to take his confession seriously angers Rodriguez. "I think it's pretty shitty," he says.

Rodriguez says that while he was in Denver last year to appear at his brother's hearing, he decided "the timing was convenient" to confess to still more crimes. Since he was already in town, it was easy to summon police and prosecutors to his side. Rodriguez told authorities then that he was willing to own up to at least two more murders. But when he asked for a deal in return, the attorneys declined his offer and didn't look back.

Rodriguez says his conscience continues to gnaw at him and that he still wants to confess. He says he wants to give the families of his victims "a chance to put this behind them, to find the truth."

All he wants in exchange for his confessions, he says, as he ticks off the demands on his fingers, is a guarantee that corrections officials will send him to a prison out of state, that they will give him a new identity and that they will allow him to mingle with the general prison population. "And, oh yeah," he says, remembering another prerequisite. "No death penalty for me."

No dice.
"I'm telling you," Denver chief deputy district attorney Mike Little says sternly, "there are not going to be any offers. Not with Chris Rodriguez. There is no intent on the part of the Denver DA's office to ever deal with Chris Rodriguez on anything. Ever."

But that doesn't mean Rodriguez won't keep trying.

Chris and Frank Rodriguez became fixtures in juvenile court at the dawn of their adolescence. By the time Chris was thirteen, he'd already been sent to juvenile hall on a burglary rap. Frank, too, was a frequent lodger at the Lookout Mountain School for Boys.

But neither Frank nor Chris cared much for Lookout Mountain, and the authorities were hard-pressed to keep them there. Frank escaped from Lookout at least once. Chris says he personally fled 56 times. "I hold the record to this day," he says with pride.

It was at Lookout Mountain that Chris first earned a snitch jacket, a designation that, unlike his escape record, earned him no respect from the other inmates.

In March 1976, when Chris was sixteen, another youth, Alexander Ruben Valdez, shot and killed a Lookout Mountain janitor during an escape attempt. Valdez was eventually found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Rodriguez served as a prime witness, testifying against Valdez.

The Valdez case is something Rodriguez would rather not discuss today, something he hopes people have forgotten. And whatever deal he may have cut in return for his testimony is lost in the annals of history or hidden in his juvenile record.

Frank and Chris were inseparable growing up. Even the cops knew that. "When they were out of prison," says Denver police sergeant Kirk Hon, "one of them would sneeze and the other one would be right there to say `Gesundheit.'" They were partners in crime, and prolific ones at that. Prosecutors once estimated that the pair committed as many as 1,500 burglaries during the late 1970s.

In 1978, when Frank was 22 and Chris just 18, the pair got nailed for the sexual assault of a young Denver mother. According to the victim, she was warming up her car one December morning when Frank Rodriguez accosted her at knifepoint and forced his way into her car. Frank was closely followed by his brother Chris and the man they referred to as their "cousin," Carlos Abad.

At the time of their arrest, says Little, Chris and Frank Rodriguez were suspected in a number of other brutal crimes, including the kidnapping and rape of a Metro State College student. "They [allegedly] kidnapped her out of the parking lot," Little says, "and took her under the Eighth Avenue viaduct and raped her so badly that she lost her memory of it and could not ID them." Prosecutors attempted to reconstruct the crime by placing the victim under hypnosis, but it was at about that time, Little says, that hypnosis was declared unreliable in criminal cases.

So prosecutors went to trial with only one case, that of the young mother. And it was then that Chris's reputation as a snitch was cemented.

"Chris said he would testify against Abad and Frank if we cut a deal," Little recalls. "He was also going to throw in information on a couple of murders, as I recall." Chris and Frank were to have been tried together. But as soon as their cases were severed, Chris changed his mind and refused to testify against either Frank or Abad. His gamesmanship served only to delay the inevitable. Chris and Abad were found guilty at trial, and Frank pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and burglary in order to avoid a sexual-assault conviction.

Chris was sentenced to serve twelve years for his first felony conviction as an adult. Frank was ordered to serve six.

Chris now adamantly denies that he ever offered--or intended--to testify against his brother or Abad. But he was less certain of the facts last year, when the issue came up during the hearing for his brother.

"It's true, is it not," Little quizzed him in court, "that you attempted to blame Carlos Abad and Frank Rodriguez during that particular series of events surrounding the rape?"

"No," Chris answered. "Well, I don't recall."
"Who did you blame?" Little asked.
"I don't think I blamed my brother," Rodriguez replied, "but, then again, I don't recall."

"In fact," Little pressed, "you'd do almost anything for Frank, wouldn't you?"

"He's my brother, and I love him with all my heart," Chris replied, "but I wouldn't commit perjury."

Frank Rodriguez played much the same game his little brother had during the 1979 rape trials, says Little--offering to testify against his accomplices and then reneging on his promises. He did the same thing again in prison, agreeing to testify and then backing off after a man who had been his cellmate wrote him a letter confessing to the murder of an eleven-year-old girl.

"When it came time to back it up in court," says Denver prosecutor Bill Buckley, "Frank said no."

Frank's refusal earned him a six-month county jail term for contempt of court (lengthening his prison term only slightly), but it did manage to keep his reputation as a stand-up guy more or less intact.

"Frank was always a pretty dang hard case," Denver police chief David Michaud observes. "I didn't ever know him as a CI [confidential informant]. But Chris was different. Chris, by what I heard, was always trying to give information about what happened in the joint."

Frank Rodriguez was released from prison in April 1984. His little brother got out September 21 of the same year. Shortly after Chris's release, he and his brother began the crime spree that put Frank on death row and Chris away for life.

Chris has trouble remembering some of the details of the crime he and Frank pulled on November 4, 1984. "What was that guy's name?" he asks, staring at the ceiling and straining to remember. "The case we caught for shooting that guy in the face? Damn! If you said his name, I'd remember."

The guy's name was George Stapleton. According to police, prosecutors and testimony from the victim himself, Stapleton was driving down Broadway that day when he spotted a woman whom he took to be a prostitute. He pulled over and began chatting with her. The woman, Lisa Casias, was merely a decoy for what was supposed to be an armed robbery. As she and Stapleton talked, Frank and Chris approached from behind. Stapleton later testified that when he turned around, Frank Rodriguez shot him in the face at point-blank range. Stapleton took three more bullets, one lodging in his skull, one passing through his arm and lung, and another that gashed his neck. Frank fired a fifth time but missed.

Stapleton, amazingly, remained conscious and drove himself to Denver General Hospital.

The Rodriguez brothers weren't tagged as suspects in the Stapleton case until mid-December. By that time, Chris and Frank were looking at much more serious charges.

It was shortly past 4 p.m. on November 14, 1984, when 54-year-old Denver bookkeeper Lorraine Martelli, a devoutly religious woman who devoted her life to taking care of her 87-year-old mother, walked out of her office near Fifth Avenue and Broadway and into the clutches of the Rodriguez brothers.

Martelli was on her way to her parked car when Chris and Frank spotted her. A witness told police that she saw two men grab Martelli, force the frantically struggling woman into her faded gray Monte Carlo and take off down an alley. As they sped away, the witness said, Martelli honked the horn, apparently trying to attract attention. The witness immediately phoned police. Denver officers were told to be on the lookout for Martelli's car. By the time they located it, at 10 that night, it was too late for Lorraine Martelli.

"We'd been plotting to rob the House of Glass," says Chris Rodriguez. "We were out of money, out of drugs. Frank said, `Let's do it now.' And I said, `No. We're supposed to do this next week when they get the payroll there.' It was only supposed to be a robbery, and it turned into fucking chaos."

After Chris and Frank grabbed Martelli off the street, they picked up Patricia "Trish" Thomas and her boyfriend, David Martinez, two friends who'd allegedly acted as lookouts while the brothers looked for cars to steal. Thomas, who was seventeen at the time, would later turn state's evidence in return for immunity from prosecution. Her graphic testimony underscored the brutality of the crimes committed that day.

According to Thomas, the Rodriguez brothers' first order of business after abducting Martelli was to buy some dope. When Frank went inside to conduct the transaction, she told prosecutors, Chris climbed into the back seat and began raping Martelli. "Trish had to move to the front seat to get out of the way," says Little, who, along with Mike Kane, prosecuted Chris Rodriguez.

"Chris continued to assault her sexually as they drove west on Sixth Avenue," Little continues. "When they got to Golden, they turned around and came back, stopping the car again in the vicinity of Ninth and the Platte River." The foursome briefly got out of the car there, leaving Martelli alone. She attempted to use those few moments to escape.

"She tried to crawled over the top of the seat from the back and then lock the doors," Little says. "Frank saw her, went back, hit her a few times and told her she was stupid. That was right before he raped her."

When Frank had finished with Martelli, he and Chris debated whether to take her life. According to Michaud, who interviewed Thomas after the arrest, Frank was the one who wanted to kill the woman. Chris tried to talk him out of it.

Michaud says that when he heard this version of events from Thomas, he asked the girl what Martelli was doing while the brothers discussed her fate. "And she said that [Martelli] was in the back seat with no clothes on, praying to the Lord for her soul."

At trial, Thomas testified that she "could hear the pounding" and "feel the seat move" as Frank repeatedly drove his knife into Martelli's body. When Martelli was dead, Thomas said, Frank enlisted his brother and Martinez to help put her body in the trunk of her car.

Then, says Denver chief deputy district attorney Craig Silverman--who, along with Little, prosecuted Frank Rodriguez--"they went to party with some women at Warren Village [an apartment complex for single parents]." While there, Frank pulled out a bloody knife and gave it to a two-year-old boy to play with.

Frank was spotted by police as he completed a beer run in Martelli's Monte Carlo, her body still in the trunk. Officers recognized the vehicle from reports of Martelli's abduction and gave chase. Frank abandoned the car and took off running, carrying the twelve-pack under his arm like a football. Officers found him trying to hide under a car near the Warren Village parking lot. Frank later led cops to his baby brother.

Chris, of course, tried to strike a deal. He dispatched his attorney, Diane Carlton, to approach Little on his behalf. "I went to [Little] and said I'd like to get a plea bargain involving the charges with Martelli," Carlton says, "and I told him that we might have information on another homicide as well. And he said, `No deals. We're going all the way with this one.'"

Little confirms Carlton's recollection. "We didn't deal with Chris, because we didn't have to," he says. "We had him cold." The DAs asked for the death penalty.

Chris was the first of the brothers to go to trial. His defense was simple: Frank did it. He sat back and kept quiet while Carlton and her co-counsel Ken Gordon placed the blame and the murder weapon directly and solely in Frank's hands.

While the jury was out, Chris's composure cracked and he again asked for a plea bargain. This time he agreed to plead guilty to all nine counts against him--including two counts of first-degree murder--in return for a sentence of life plus 72 years. Although Little now proved willing to deal, Denver District Judge Lynne Hufnagel refused to accept the bargain, ruling that Chris wasn't in the proper frame of mind to fully understand or accept a plea.

The jury found him guilty. Prior to the death-penalty phase of the trial, however, he was given a chance to express his remorse over the murder. Chris told Hufnagel that he was "sorry about Miss Martelli's death" and admitted that the crime was "horrible." But, he complained, "no one seems to care about me." The jury spared Chris's life. He was sentenced to life plus 64 years.

The following year, when Frank went to trial, his attorneys argued that Chris and Martinez had stabbed Martelli. But Frank's defense was hurt by the presentation of incriminating letters he had written to his girlfriend in which he admitted killing the bookkeeper. "As far as that Martelli case is concern I had to kill her," he wrote. "The only reson I'am sorry now is because of the hurt I have done to you. I do'nt care about Martelli and her people but I do care what you think about me. I love you women and do'nt want to loss you over some white people."

Frank's attorneys tried to dismiss the letters as a con, saying he'd written them so his girlfriend could use them as a bargaining chip with prosecutors in her own case. If she gave the letters to prosecutors, Frank reasoned, she might get them to drop pending felony shoplifting charges against her.

Frank's defense went over more poorly than his brother's had. He was sentenced to die.

end of part 1

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