Death Watch: The Suitcase Killer
State’s fourth execution set for March 27
Late on Monday afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied death row inmate Rosendo Rodriguez III's most recent appeal, and time is running out. Rodriguez was convicted of raping, beating, and killing Summer Baldwin at a Lubbock hotel in 2005, then trashing her body in a suitcase at the city dump. He confessed to the killing – as well as the murder of a 16-year-old girl whose body was also discovered in a suitcase one year before.
Following the CCA's ruling, Rodriguez's attorney Seth Kretzer filed a flurry of new appeals in state and federal courts, arguing that his client did not receive a fair trial. The argument hinges on an unrelated 2015 lawsuit filed against Sridhar Natarajan, the Lubbock medical examiner who reported to have performed Baldwin's autopsy – which accuses the M.E. of routinely "delegating" decisions to his senior forensic nurse who often decided "which bodies to autopsy" and which required only "visual inspection." As Rodriguez's March 27 death date nears, his lawyer claims the prosecution team used a "discredited forensic scientist to deprive" Rodriguez of a fair trial, which ultimately violated his constitutional right to due process. The appeal goes on to say the state also violated Brady obligations by failing to disclose the aforementioned lawsuit and Natarajan's pricey out-of-court settlement. Rodriguez would be the fourth Texan executed this year; only Thomas Whitaker has been spared to date.