In December 2001, an employee of a San Jose, California auto parts store was robbed while working on the loading dock. The next day, the victim spotted Jeffrey Rodriguez in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and identified him as the robber even though Rodriguez was taller than the man he had described to police and was not clean-shaven, as he had described the robber.. At Rodriguez’s first trial, which ended in a hung jury, the victim testified that the robber wore a hooded sweatshirt. At Rodriguez’s second trial, in April 2003, the victim testified that he recognized a leather jacket that the police took from Rodriguez as the jacket the robber was wearing. A Santa Clara crime lab examiner testified that Rodriguez’s pants contained a stain that included both motor oil and cooking oil, a combination that could have come from the oils splashed on the loading dock. Though Rodriguez’s attorney had called alibi witnesses at his first trial, he failed to call any at the second trial. In addition, the attorney did not ask the court for funds for a forensic expert, did not obtain the transcripts from the first trial, and did not point out any of the inconsistencies in the victim’s testimony. The jury convicted Rodriguez of second-degree robbery and he was sentenced to 25-years-to-life under California’s three strikes law.
In June 2006, California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal overturned Rodriguez’s conviction because he received ineffective assistance of defense counsel, and he was granted a new trial.
After Rodriguez’s conviction was vacated, his appellate attorney and the district attorney assigned to the case reexamined the evidence. They determined that the leather jacket Rodriguez wore did not match the jacket seen on the robber in a surveillance video. In addition, retesting of the stain on Rodriguez’s pants revealed that it did not contain oil. In February 2007, prosecutors dismissed the charges and Rodriguez was released.
- Stephanie Denzel