By Elizabeth Cho
SAN FRANCISCO – Jose Rodriguez and Valeria Villagomez dated for several months. And then, in October 2019, Rodriguez fatally shot Villagomez, according to evidence presented in San Francisco County Superior Court.
And despite all of the evidence showing that Rodriguez did kill her, Rodriguez’s attorney maintains that it was a tragic accident, not murder.
On October 24 last year, the SFPD responded to a 911 call stating that a woman had been shot in the head. Upon arrival, they found Rodriguez, “shirtless and with blood on his hands” and “discovered Villagomez lying on the floor in a pool of blood, with an apparent gunshot wound to her head.”
At the time of his arrest, Rodriguez allegedly made several attempts to take his own life and to take a police officer’s firearm to do so. It was later revealed that Rodriguez allegedly suffers from bipolar disorder and takes anti-psychotic medication. He is charged with felony murder, domestic violence with the use of a firearm, and attempting to remove an officer’s handgun, to all of which he pled not guilty.
The prosecution asserts that before Villagomez’s death, there were many reports of abuse in the relationship.
According to Villagomez’s roommate, Rodriguez had threatened to kill Villagomez and himself, choked Villagomez on many different instances, called Villagomez a “whore” and many other vulgar names, and forced her to delete her Instagram account.
Along with her roommate’s report, there were multiple calls to the police in the duration of Villagomez’s relationship with Rodriguez, all of them to do with domestic abuse. When her roommate was informed that there was a shooting in her home, she allegedly told police officers that she “already knew it had to do with Valeria and Jose.”
SF Assistant District Attorney Justine Cephus said that Villagomez’s death was a result of domestic violence. Brian Pearlman, Rodriguez’s attorney, said that it was a tragic accident that was only furthered because of Rodriguez’s already “troubled mental state.”
During court, Pearlman objected several times, attempting to pick apart the testimonies of the witnesses, especially that of Officer Frances Graves. Officer Graves spoke almost entirely on her interactions with Villagomez’s roommate and the crime scene. During her testimony, she spoke of their “toxic and severely abusive” relationship, of which Rodriguez was always the abuser.
Graves also talked about how the roommate believed that Villagomez was attempting to break off the relationship, which could have triggered a fight leading to Villagomez’s death. According to her roommate, not only was Rodriguez physically abusive, but emotionally. Rodriguez allegedly made several threats to kill Villagomez and/or himself if she ever broke up with him.
Graves continued her testimony and stated that she had never seen Rodriguez act erratically after shooting Villagomez.
“When I saw him after [he was arrested and charged], he acted calm. I didn’t see any signs of bipolar behavior.” The ADA looked to use this as a way to prove that Rodriguez was in control of his behavior at the time of the shooting. This would show it was not the act of a man with mental illness, like the defense claimed.
ADA Cephus also spoke about Graves’ work with Dr. Ellen Moffatt, the medical examiner. But when Graves could not remember specific details (such as how long Moffatt had worked as a medical examiner and where she went to school), ADA Cephus asked the court if Graves could look at her notes. However, this sparked another host of arguments between the ADA and the defense as to whether or not it was permissible for Graves to do so.
Each time the ADA gave different lines of reasoning, the defense quickly objected, saying that it was hearsay. After plenty of back and forth, the judge interjected and stated that Graves could look at her notes only when she explicitly stated that she could not remember information that was being asked of her and if she said that it would help her to look at her notes.
After that, Graves was able to testify to Dr. Moffatt’s education, years of experience, and professionalism. This helped to support Dr. Moffatt’s analysis that the position of the gunshot wound did not appear to be an accident, but seemingly with purpose.
The defense then started his line of questioning designed to weaken the credibility of Graves’ testimony of what Villagomez’s roommate had said about the relationship in question. The roommate never mentioned hearing Rodriguez and Villagomez argue the day before or the day that Villagomez was shot, which the defense claimed helped to support that the shooting was not premeditated.
And since the roommate also never explicitly saw Villagomez’s injuries or saw Rodriguez attack Villagomez, the defense also questioned the roommate’s testimony that Villagomez was being abused at all.
“All the roommate knows about the relationship is what Valeria told her. So that means that there is a possibility that Valeria could have fabricated everything that she told her roommate, including the alleged abuse,” said defense counsel.
It was then that the court was closed for the day and had to abruptly finish their hearing. The case will resume at a later date.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9