Oak Forest man charged with strangling, setting fire to wife
BY JON SEIDEL Staff Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org December 30, 2012 2:46PM
Erica Rodriguez was strangled and her home set on fire. Her husband Martin Rodriguez is accused of strangling Erica Rodriguez, the woman he’d been married to for 17 years, and setting her and their house on fire. This is her Facebook photo.
Updated: February 1, 2013 6:17AM
Martin Rodriguez waited until he and his wife had seen their son and one of their daughters off to school.
Then, just minutes after their teenage boy walked to his high school across the street from their home in Oak Forest, a prosecutor said, Rodriguez began to strangle Erica Rodriguez, 40, the woman he had been married to for 17 years.
He broke a bone in her neck, said Assistant State’s Attorney Kim Przekota, laid her down perfectly straight on the bed where he had been sleeping alone as their marriage fell apart, and he placed a family photo and a Bible beside her body.
Then, Przekota said, Rodriguez slit his throat and set fire to the house and his wife’s body.
A Cook County judge refused bail for Rodriguez, 48, on Sunday after hearing the details of the gruesome crime from Przekota. Rodriguez survived the fire, according to the prosecutor, by crawling outside through an upstairs rear sliding door. A police report said he was found on an attached wooden porch.
Rodriguez continued to bleed there until he was rescued by police and paramedics, she said.
He’s charged with first-degree murder and aggravated arson. A police officer who appeared in bond court declined to answer questions from a reporter, and Oak Forest Police officials didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
A previous police release said the couple had three children — 17- and 6-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy — who were with other family members while Rodriguez was being treated for his injuries at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn in police custody. He has had surgery for his burns and the cut to his throat, according to police reports.
Przekota said Rodriguez and his wife had been having marital problems — she had taken off her wedding ring and was sleeping on the couch while he spent his nights alone in the bed at the house in the 15200 block of South Central Avenue.
His wife also had been communicating with male friends from high school through Facebook, she said, and Rodriguez suspected his wife had been cheating on him. She said Rodriguez’s wife had given him five months to leave the house.
On Dec. 14, Rodriguez, feeling he shouldn’t be forced out of the home, asked his son to go through his wife’s cellphone and gave him her password, according to the prosecutor. The boy discovered that his mother had been texting someone about getting a lawyer.
So on Dec. 18, Rodriguez and his wife drove their young daughter to school and returned home, Przekota said. Their son left next and walked across the street to his high school. And Rodriguez’s wife prepared to do the laundry.
But that’s when Rodriguez attacked, according to Przekota. She said he strangled her before placing her body on the bed and setting the fire, using an unknown accelerant, which court records indicate he poured on her body.
The prosecutor said Erica Rodriguez was found dead. She had been strangled and had second-degree burns to her head and body. Her husband was taken to the hospital.
Martin Rodriguez later gave three very different versions of what happened that day, Przekota said: one to his brother and sister-in-law, a second to his brother and a third to police. She said each story he gave was contradicted by witness testimony and physical evidence inside the house.
According to police reports, Rodriguez claimed an intruder had attacked him and his wife inside the home, leading to the fire, his injuries and his wife’s murder.
Police found three knives in the home, Przekota said. Rodriguez also wore a different set of clothing when he was cut than when his son last saw him, according to the prosecutor, meaning he hadn’t been attacked immediately upon entry as she said he initially claimed, because he had time to change clothes.
Investigators found lots of blood in front of a bathroom sink in an upstairs bathroom that the defendant said he never uses, and there were no signs of forced entry, Przekota told the judge. She also said no property was missing, and no one saw an intruder go into the home.
When police confronted Rodriguez on Thursday about the evidence contradicting his story, police said he invoked his right to a lawyer and ended the interview.
Rodriguez’s ex-wife also sought out police after hearing about the murder, Przekota said. The ex-wife said Rodriguez choked her repeatedly during their 27-year marriage. She also said she walked in once as he was choking their infant child on the floor in a closet.
The ex-wife had to administer CPR, Przekota said, and Rodriguez threatened she would be next if she told anyone what happened. No one would be there to help her, he allegedly told her.
A few days before she was murdered, Erica Rodriguez had told her boss that she had argued with Rodriguez once and he acted like he was going to hit her, Przekota said. She told him to go through with it, but he never did.
But Przekota also said Erica Rodriguez’s phone records show she sent a text to a friend on Dec. 17. It said, “I think I better take the expensive lawyer … things might get rough around here.”