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Judge forwards slaying case to Circuit Court

January 11, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A Spanish interpreter sitting beside Angel Teodoro Villatoro on Tuesday in Washington County District Court translated for him in a whispered tone how, in the words of a Hagerstown Police Department detective, police linked him to a Dec. 10 stabbing death here.

After Hagerstown Police Department Detective Casey Yonkers' testimony and a brief argument from Villatoro's attorney, District Judge Ralph H. France II found probable cause to forward charges, including first-degree murder, against the 35-year-old Salvadoran man to Circuit Court in connection with the Dec. 10 homicide.

Villatoro faces a maximum penalty of death if convicted on the first-degree murder charge, according to charging documents.

Eliezer Rodriguez, 22, was stabbed in the chest and abdomen during a fight in the 100 block of West North Avenue about 1 a.m. He was pronounced dead at Washington County Hospital after the fight, Yonkers testified Tuesday.

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Yonkers testified that Villatoro had been pulled over while driving a van by Frederick Police Department officers nearly two hours after the stabbing and was observed bleeding from a cut on his hand. Yonkers testified Villatoro admitted to Hagerstown police, through an interpreter, during their questioning into the homicide, "to having a knife that broke" at the site of the homicide.

At one point during the hearing, Villatoro, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and glasses, asked, through his interpreter, whether he could ask a question. He spoke in a low tone to his interpreter and his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Stephen Musselman.

Musselman, during his cross-examination, asked Yonkers about three times whether police "identified any Spanish-speaking witnesses in this case?"

The first time it was asked of him, Yonkers said Cesar Miranda Rodriguez, who also was stabbed in the fight and of no relation to Eliezer, "speaks fluent English."

In a separate response to a similar question, Yonkers added that two witnesses were identified, but "we have ruled them out as suspects."

After attorneys questioned Yonkers, the only witness for the preliminary hearing, Musselman told France, "We had a fight or we had reckless misconduct. I don't think (the prosecution) established malice aforethought. I don't believe they've established anything beyond reckless endangerment."

Before Assistant State's Attorney Robert Veil made an argument, France said, "There is probable cause for each of these felonies."

He then ordered Villatoro, whose address before his arrest was 33 E. 6th St. in Frederick, Md., to remain held without bond at the Washington County Detention Center.

On Dec. 20, similar charges, including first-degree murder, were likewise forwarded in a preliminary hearing from the lower court against Villatoro's co-defendant, 14-year-old Irving Atillo Benitez, who, before his arrest, lived at 154 Willowdale Drive, Apartment 14, in Frederick.

Benitez, who is charged as an adult in Rodriguez's death, was ordered at his Dec. 20 preliminary hearing to be held on $500,000 bond.

Yonkers testified Tuesday that Cesar Miranda Rodriguez, 27, of the 200 block of Jonathan Street, was stabbed in the left side of his back during the fight, but was treated at Washington County Hospital and released. During a phone argument on Dec. 7, Benitez and Eli Rodriguez arranged to fight a few days later.

Cesar Rodriguez told police he "tried to break up the fight" between "Eli" and a group from a van who fought with him in the street, but was "stabbed in the back by someone who had him in a full Nelson."

At one point during the fight, which initially was reported as involving about 20 men, the small group of men allegedly attacking Eli piled into the van, Yonkers testified. One of the witnesses picked Villatoro out of a photographic lineup as one of the men involved in the fight.

At 2:40 a.m., Frederick Police Department officers stopped a white 1992 Dodge van, which allegedly was driven by Villatoro.

Villatoro "had a cut on his left hand, which he was covering with a bandana. The steering wheel was covered with blood," Yonkers testified.

Benitez allegedly told Hagerstown police that Villatoro sustained the cut "while he was stabbing somebody ... The knife broke while he was stabbing somebody," Yonkers testified.

When he was questioned by Hagerstown police, Villatoro admitted "to having a knife that broke" at the site of the homicide, Yonkers testified.

The knife had been "detached from the handle," he said.

A 4-inch knife blade from a steak knife was recovered at the scene with "a minute" amount of blood on it, Yonkers testified.

It was sent for DNA testing, Yonkers testified on cross-examination.

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