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Specter of violence appears in court

Crime: Child-killer’s father suspected of visiting during son's trial

Posted: July 22, 2010 10:20 p.m.
Updated: July 23, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

SAN FERNANDO — The elusive and allegedly abusive father of convicted child-killer Antonio Rodriguez dominated the closing minutes of the murderer’s trial Thursday, as a jury decides his life-or-death fate.

All morning Thursday, jurors who found 29-year-old Rodriguez guilty of sexual assault, torture and murder in the vicious beating death of Desarie Saravia stared at the overhead image of the killer’s father.

The illuminated photograph of Heriberto Rodriguez Sr. — described under oath by his daughters as an “animal” and an alcoholic who beat them — loomed over the shoulder of people testifying Thursday about him.

No one who was asked on the witness stand about the elder Rodriguez has seen or heard from him for more than 20 years — that is, until July 12.

That’s the day, Tracey Ruby, a victim’s advocate who works for the District Attorney’s office and who has attended almost every day of the Rodriguez murder trial, says she saw the man she believes to be Heriberto Rodriguez Sr. inside the courtroom.

The man whom she recognized from a photo entered as Exhibit 168 by prosecutor Mary Sedgwick, slipped quietly in and out of San Fernando Superior Court on that day, never to re-appear, Ruby said in sworn testimony.

“I saw two gentlemen I hadn’t seen in the courtroom prior,” she said. “Both were Hispanic, one older and the other middle-aged. They stood out because they hadn’t been in court before.”

Defense lawyer Robert A. Schwartz asked Ruby repeatedly about the opportunity she had to really get a good look at the man, since she sat at least two rows behind him that day.

On July 12, after prosecutor Mary Sedgwick presented Exhibit No. 168, a picture of Heriberto Rodriguez Sr., to one of Rodriguez’ sisters during cross-examination. The witness swiped the photograph out of Sedgwick’s hands.

Recalling memories of their father, the court learned from the Rodriguez girls, was painful.

Also called to testify about the killer’s father was veteran private investigator David Boykoff, a licensed PI since 1979, working for the defense.

Boykoff, who doggedly collected paperwork on everyone who knew Antonio Rodriguez growing up, said he couldn’t find the convicted man’s father despite searches at the Department of Motor Vehicles and having interviewed relatives and associates.

“Nobody was able to tell me where he was or how to get in touch with him,” Boykoff said.

Boykoff said he pursued several leads including aliases the man may have used and several possible dates of birth.

Desarie Elizabeth Saravia, 5, was pronounced dead at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital on Nov. 12, 2004, after several attempts had been made to revive her. She had been beaten, whipped and burned.

She died as a result of blunt force trauma to her abdomen, suffering from severe internal injuries after being severely punched or kicked in the stomach.

Her mother. Debby Saravia, is expected to be tried separately in connection with her death.

Debby Saravia was reportedly working on Sturbridge Drive in Castaic, cleaning a house there, when Desarie’s naked and lifeless body was laid on the front lawn of a house on the same street.

Rodriguez beat and killed the girl in a single-stall bathroom at a Castaic park nearby.

Closing arguments are expected to be heard today in the trial’s death-penalty phase.

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