Man who stuffed Lubbock woman’s body into luggage set to die

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Attorneys for a condemned Texas inmate who became known as the “suitcase killer” looked to the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his execution set for Tuesday evening for the slaying of a 29-year-old Lubbock woman whose battered, naked body was stuffed into a new piece of luggage and tossed in the trash.

Rosendo Rodriguez III, who turned 38 Monday, also confessed to killing a 16-year-old Lubbock girl and similarly disposing her body in the trash in a suitcase.

He’d be the fourth inmate executed this year in Texas, the nation’s busiest death penalty state.

Workers at the city landfill in September 2005 spotted and then opened the suitcase, discovering the corpse of Summer Baldwin, who was 10 weeks pregnant. Detectives used a barcode label sewn to the luggage to establish it was purchased a day earlier at a Walmart, and debit card records and store surveillance video identified the buyer as Rodriguez, a Marine reservist from San Antonio who’d been in Lubbock for training that included martial arts combat.

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He was convicted and sentenced to die for raping and killing Baldwin. Court records show Rodriguez also was linked to at least five other sexual assaults and confessed to killing Joanna Rogers, the 16-year-old missing for a year when her mummified remains were found inside a suitcase at the city garbage dump.

Rodriguez’s lawyers said lower courts improperly turned down appeals that focused on the medical examiner’s trial testimony about Baldwin’s autopsy and her injuries.

In a filing Monday to the Supreme Court, attorney Seth Kretzer said the justices were his “last hope” to show Rodriguez was innocent and get a hearing related to a recent disclosure of the settlement of a whistleblower lawsuit — which attorneys said previously was unknown to them — that alleged the coroner delegated some duties to unqualified underlings. That practice raised questions about “the credibility and admissibility of the medical examiner’s testimony in this case,” Kretzer said.

Assistant Texas Attorney General Tomee Heining said the high court appeal was improper, untimely and meritless, and “nothing more than a last-ditch effort” to undermine scientific findings that were unfavorable for Rodriguez.

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The lawsuit involved a dismissed former employee who didn’t start work until years after Rodriguez went to trial. The settlement included a statement that there was no reason to question the scientific validity of findings or opinions made by the medical examiner’s office, according to prosecutors. Court records showed the medical examiner personally conducted Baldwin’s autopsy.

Records also described the mother of four as a prostitute.

Rodriguez lived in San Antonio with his parents and was arrested there days after Baldwin’s body was discovered. Three weeks later, he gave Lubbock police a statement saying he killed her in self-defense when she pulled a knife on him after the two had consensual sex on Sept. 12, 2005, at a hotel room.

Testimony at his 2008 trial showed Baldwin had about 50 blunt force wounds and may have been alive when she was folded into the suitcase and tossed into a trash bin. The contents subsequently wound up at the city dump.

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Jurors who convicted Rodriguez of capital murder heard from five women, including his high school girlfriend, who testified he raped them. Jurors also heard about his confession to killing Rogers, the 16-year-old Lubbock girl he initially met in an online chat room.

“He’s really good at killing people,” Lubbock County District Attorney Matt Powell, who prosecuted Rodriguez, said Monday. “Very calm, very calculated.

“Women were terrified of him. He used his charm and good looks and status for a long time to victimize women,” Powell said. “In this case, the right guy is getting the appropriate punishment.”