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Murder, Arson Conviction Upheld

Jose Quinones Rodriguez
Jose Quinones Rodriguez

An inmate serving life for fatally shooting his girlfriend and setting her apartment on fire has lost his bid for a new trial. The South Dakota Supreme Court issued that opinion Thursday. Justices say if any errors were made at trial, they were harmless, in light of the overwhelming amount of solid evidence.

When facing charges for the 2018 murder of his girlfriend in Andover, Jose Quinones Rodriguez chose to have a bench trial before a Fifth Circuit judge rather than before a jury.

Thomas Cogley represents Rodriguez at oral arguments before the state Supreme Court earlier this year.

He says Judge Richard Sommers refused a defense motion to exclude two statements Rodriguez made to investigators before his arrest.

Cogley notes that the statements were damaging not because they laid out facts that incriminated Rodriguez, but because they conflicted with what other witnesses said.

“There was other evidence that would have come in about specifically his whereabouts, but the fact that it was contradictory wouldn’t have come in if we’d been given the opportunity and if the court had granted the suppression issue.”

Cogley also asks justices to find that information from two witnesses declared to be unavailable should be discarded. One did not show up at trial. The other, Rodriguez’s daughter, showed up but claimed not to remember what happened or what she said to investigators.

Assistant Attorney General Patricia Archer argues that a transcript of an investigative interview with the daughter was allowable under exceptions to hearsay.

“Was the witness physically present in the courtroom, did she testify, and was there the opportunity for cross examination. That is what the confrontation clause demands and that’s what occurred here.”

She says the defendant could have cross examined the daughter but chose not to.

As for the other absent witness, Archer says she wasn’t needed because other witnesses established that the murder weapon belonged to Rodriguez.

A unanimous Supreme Court upheld Rodriguez’s convictions for first and second degree murder, arson, and other charges.