On September 8, 1997, 21-year-old Magdaliz Rosario was found shot to death in the second-floor apartment she shared with her common-law husband, 21-year-old Cesar Munoz, at 1707 N. Artesian Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Munoz, who was the father of two of the three children they were raising, told police that Rosario went into their bedroom and locked the door and shot herself once in the head. He said he tried to open the door by pressing back the latch with a nail, but when that was unsuccessful, he broke the door down. He screamed for help and his father, who was nearby, rushed in and found Munoz struggling to drag Rosario across the floor of the apartment to the stairs.
Munoz was taken to a police station for questioning where he told detectives that Rosario had gone into the bedroom and closed the door and then he heard a shot. He said that after breaking down the door, he threw the pistol out a window into a garbage can and tried to drag Rosario to get medical help.
Police found the gun in a garbage can under about 18 inches of garbage.
During several hours of interrogation, Munoz said that earlier that day, Rosario and John Flores, who was living at the apartment, had gone to a security business where Flores worked so Rosario could apply for a job. Munoz said he was angry because she had left him to care for their children, so he and the children drove to the security firm. There, he learned that Rosario was elated because she had been hired on the spot to work as an usher at Northwestern University football games. They returned to their apartment where they put two of the children down for a nap. Munoz said that Rosario started preparing a bath for the third. Then she went into the bedroom and Munoz heard a shot.
Flores told detectives that he and Rosario were secretly having an affair and that she had told him Munoz was jealous and that she was unhappy in their relationship.
Munoz was charged with first degree murder and went on trial before a jury in Cook County Circuit Court in May 2000. A mistrial was declared because the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
He went on trial a second time in November 2000. The detectives testified to Munoz’s statements and described how the gun was found underneath garbage—not on top where it would be expected to have landed if it had been tossed out of the second floor bedroom window.
Flores testified about the affair he was having with Rosario and also said that Rosario did not appear suicidal—particularly because she was happy about getting a job that morning.
A crime laboratory analyst testified that gunshot residue was found on Rosario’s left hand and that testing for residue on Munoz was inconclusive. Another analyst said ballistics tests linked the bullet in Rosario’s head to the gun found in the garbage.
Detectives testified that Munoz told them he had struggled with Rosario over the gun and that it went off, striking her in the face. The detectives also testified that Munoz had told them he was angry and jealous because Rosario had gone with Flores to the job interview. The detectives said the door was not locked as Munoz claimed.
A pathologist who performed the autopsy testified that although the wound was a close contact wound, she believed “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the death was a homicide because the location (shot through the lip) and appearance of the wound were not indicative of suicide. The pathologist said she was also influenced to believe the death was a homicide because the gun was moved and the body was dragged face down on the floor from the bedroom.
Munoz’s brother, Nicky, testified for the defense that he was next door when he heard Munoz scream for help, yelling, “She shot herself! Help me!” Nicky said he came up the stairs and found Rosario lying on the floor. Munoz was standing nearby “like frozen.” Because there was no phone, Nicky said he went home and called 911.
Munoz’s cousin, John Barrios, who lived across the street, rushed to the apartment after hearing the screams. Barrios said Munoz told him Rosario had shot herself.
Munoz testified in his own behalf and said that after they returned from the security firm, Rosario went into the bedroom and started weeping, then took one of their children into the bathroom to prepare a bath. He said shortly afterward, he heard the bedroom door slam. He tried to open it, but it was locked. He tried to pry back the latch with a nail and through a crack, he said he saw Rosario get the pistol out of dresser and walk out of his view. He then heard a gunshot and burst through the door to find her on the bed, bleeding from her mouth.
Munoz admitted he told the detectives he had struggled with Rosario over the gun, but claimed that was not true. He also denied saying he was angry with Rosario or jealous.
The defense sought to introduce testimony from a friend of Rosario, Elizabeth Constable, who said that Rosario had spoken of killing herself about a week before she died. Constable also would testify that Rosario had said she was making herself vomit to lose weight and said she did not care if she lived or died. The trial judge barred the statements as improper hearsay evidence.
The defense had planned to call a pathologist to testify that the death was a suicide based in part on the testimony of Constable, but when that testimony was barred, the pathologist did not testify.
Munoz was convicted by a jury in November 2000 and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
In 2004, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the conviction, ruling that the judge had erred in barring the testimony of Constable and that the state’s pathologist’s testimony that the death was a homicide “beyond a reasonable doubt” was improper.
Munoz went on trial a third time in September 2007. At this trial, a detective testified that he believed Munoz’s version of events was a lie. Flores expanded on his testimony from the prior trials and said that Rosario had told him that Munoz was jealous and wanted to know what she was doing all the time—which the prosecution argued was Munoz’s motive for killing Rosario.
Constable testified about Rosario’s comments about wanting to kill herself and Munoz again testified in his own behalf.
He was convicted again on September 27, 2007 and again was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
The conviction was reversed again in 2010 by the Illinois Appellate Court, which ruled that the detective’s comment on Munoz’s veracity was improper and that Flores should not have been allowed to testify about Rosario’s statements about Munoz’s jealousy. In February, 2010, Munoz was released on bond.
In June 2013, Munoz went on trial a fourth time and elected to have the case decided by a judge instead of a jury. At this trial, his defense attorneys Kathleen Zellner and Douglas Johnson for the first time introduced evidence from a locksmith who had examined crime scene photographs of the door and found that it was in fact locked as Munoz claimed and that there were striations on the door latch that were consistent with being scratched with a nail.
A child psychologist also testified for the defense and outlined how Rosario had been abandoned by her mother as a very young child and had become depressed prior to the shooting when her mother refused to meet with her.
The defense also presented testimony for the first time that suggested that the gunshot residue on Rosario’s left hand, although she was right handed, was the result of her holding the gun in her left hand and pulling the trigger with her right thumb.
On June 12, 2013, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Rosemary Higgins acquitted Munoz.
– Maurice Possley