A preliminary hearing for an Oak Forest man accused of strangling his wife and setting her body and their home on fire unexpectedly became a three-hour affair of stops and starts as opposing counsel wrangled over DNA evidence Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The case against Martin Rodriguez, 48, is still in bond court, as prosecutors are still within a 30-day window to issue formal charges. Prosecutors say on the morning of Dec. 18, Rodriguez waited until their three children were at school before strangling his wife Erica, then slitting his own throat and setting the fire, according to prosecutors.
Rodriguez survived the fire and was treated for burns and a cut to his throat. He is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated arson.
He was denied bail appeared in bond court before Cook County Judge Carmen K. Aguilar, his first appearance since his arrest and discharge from the hospital. Wearing khaki-colored Department of Corrections garb, Rodriguez's throat was heavily bandanged with what appeared to be white gauze and he leaned on a walker during much of the hearing.
Prosecutors filed a notice Tuesday morning that some of the DNA evidence they intend to test—including vaginal swabs from a rape kit, blood swabs from the scene and blood from the handles of three knives at the scene—may be destroyed or "consumed" by the testing.
The notice is a routine courtesy, prosecutor Cheryl Galvin indicated to Aguilar. But Assistant Public Defender Dan Nolan objected to the state testing the evidence without either determining if the samples could be split to preserve for later testing by defense experts or allowing an expert hired by the defense to observe the testing.
Nolan wanted to argue the motion at the next court date, but prosecutors said testing had to begin Tuesday to move toward an indictment.
"I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't object to this, Judge," Nolan told Aguilar, noting repeatedly that the defense should have their opportunity to "have their shot" at the evidence as well.
He said it was his first time hearing about any rape kit evidence at all and that Rodriguez has been charged with murder and arson and "now I'm hearing about rape kits."
However, Galvin responded that by law, the defense doesn't have the right to object to how the state tests its evidence during this phase of the case.
"He has no right to object to us working up our evidence," Galvin said. The notice given, she added, was purely a courtesy and in the interest of full disclosure.
"The defense is not entitled to discovery at this point," she said.
Ultimately, after passing and resuming the case three times on Tuesday, Aguilar said she wasn't sure why the prosecution would file a notice regarding the evidence if defense counsel doesn't have grounds to respond. However, the judge said the issue is not one for the court to rule on as there is no case law that says defense counsel has a right to any of the state's evidence pre-indictment. She also said the state appeared to be following the rules of its crime lab, not those of the court.
"There is nothing for this court to rule on," Aguilar said. "This is bond court. The case hasn't been assigned and hasn't been indicted."
Aguilar said Nolan's objection was noted for the record.
The case is scheduled to return to court on Jan. 28.