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Man pleads guilty to charges in stabbing

June 10, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN

Speaking in Spanish to an interpreter in Washington County Circuit Court Friday, Angel Teodoro Villatoro's body shook as he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and first-degree assault in connection with a December 2005 homicide in Hagerstown.

Sentencing for Villatoro, 36, of Frederick, Md., was delayed pending the completion of a presentence investigation. Washington County Assistant State's Attorney Viki Pauler said she plans to seek a sentence of 35 years, a consecutive maximum 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and maximum 25-year sentence for first-degree assault.

Villatoro originally was charged with first- and second-degree murder, among other charges, in connection with the Dec. 10, 2005, stabbing death of Eliezer Rodriguez and stabbing of Eliezer's stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, who survived his injuries. Both were stabbed during a fight in the 100 block of West North Avenue about 1 a.m.

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Villatoro's co-defendant, a 15-year-old Frederick boy, is expected to admit to involuntary manslaughter in juvenile court, attorneys announced Thursday. He originally was charged with first- and second-degree murder, among a series of other charges, as an adult, but his case was transferred to juvenile court Thursday.

Villatoro's charge of second-degree murder was amended to involuntary manslaughter at the Friday hearing, Pauler said.

"We're satisfied that today's plea accurately reflects (Villatoro's) participation in this incident," State's Attorney Charles Strong said after the hearing. "While he was not the stabber of the deceased victim, he did aid and abet by his actions. He did stab Cesar Rodriguez."

Villatoro, a native of El Salvador who does not have his U.S. citizenship, faces possible deportation as a result of the conviction, Circuit Judge John H. McDowell said while questioning Villatoro about his comprehension about the proceedings and willingness to plead guilty.

Villatoro, who was wearing a wrinkled white T-shirt and slacks, stood with his arms folded as McDowell explained, slowly - so the interpreter could keep up - the rights he was giving up to plead guilty.

When asked whether he was satisfied with his legal representation, Villatoro said, through his interpreter, "Well, I'd like my freedom, but ..."

One of Villatoro's attorneys, Assistant Public Defender Stephen Musselman, explained to Villatoro, "Even though you may have been attacked at first, attacked with a knife and in fear ... We're not going to present anything about your fear today."

Pauler said Hagerstown Police Department officers who responded to a 1:03 a.m. call for a fight found Eliezer Rodriguez stabbed "once in the abdomen and once in the center of his chest," and Cesar Rodriguez stabbed in "the upper left back."

Both were transported by Community Rescue Service to Washington County Hospital, but Eliezer Rodriguez was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival, she said.

Villatoro drove "at least four passengers" to Hagerstown that night and arrived in the 100 block of West North Avenue as Cesar and Eliezer Rodriguez were walking down the street, she said. A verbal confrontation turned into a large physical fight, she said.

"Angel - armed with a knife - stabbed Cesar in the upper left back and caused Cesar to retreat from the fight," Pauler said. "Eliezer was being beaten and stabbed by other males who arrived in the van."

She said Villatoro's knife broke during the stabbing, and police found the broken knife with his and Cesar Rodriguez's blood on it at the scene.

Cesar Rodriguez, two of Eliezer Rodriguez's sisters and his uncle were at the hearing, but declined to comment about the plea during the hearing and afterward.

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