July 21, 2008

Prosecutors: Man killed teen mom to cover up relative's rape

Prosecutors: Man killed teen mom to cover up relative's rape

July 21, 2008 - 9:44PM
Jeremy Roebuck

EDINBURG - A man accused of fatally shooting his 16-year-old girlfriend, burning her body and then abandoning her infant child on the side of a busy Weslaco road nearly two years ago stood before a jury Monday.

Prosecutors allege Samuel Villarreal, 40, killed Aida Mae Rodriguez in November 2006 because she had walked in on him at their Mercedes apartment as he raped a then 13-year-old relative.

But Villarreal's defense attorneys denied Monday their client played any role in Rodriguez's death.

They told jurors that anything he may have done to the other girl, who has since given birth to his daughter, was extraneous to the case at hand.

It is The Monitor's policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assault. The name of the teenage relative, who is now 15, and her relation to Villarreal have been withheld to protect her identity.

Multiple scenes

Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies found Rodriguez's charred corpse Nov. 26, 2006, in a sugar cane south of Donna. She had been beaten with a lead pipe and shot twice before she was set on fire, autopsy reports indicate.

Hours before, passersby discovered her 7-month-old daughter, Briggette Mae, crawling along Mile 4 1/2 Road West north of Weslaco.

While investigators examined the body and child welfare workers attempted to identify the child, Villarreal fled to Mexico with the girl he was accused of assaulting, prosecutors said.

Days before, he allegedly told several people he intended to kill Rodriguez because she had reportedly arranged for a group of men to sexually assault the 13-year-old relative.

Assistant District Attorney Andres Lopez, however, contradicted that story Monday.

"He told everyone he was going to (kill Rodriguez) because she allegedly set up (the girl) to get gang raped," Lopez said. "But really the only person doing the raping was Samuel Villarreal."

Ambiguous relationship

Before her death, Rodriguez and her boyfriend had moved in with Villarreal shortly after she had given birth to Briggette Mae.

Within months, the baby's father reconciled with his ex-wife and moved out.

Rodriguez stayed behind and during her time at Villarreal's apartment, their relationship turned ambiguous.

Investigators described the teen as Villarreal's girlfriend, and neighbors said shortly after her death that she even referred to him as her husband.

But Rodriguez's mother has always denied the two had a sexual relationship, and prosecutors made no mention of a possible romantic link between them Monday.

Even so, Rodriguez became increasingly close to the 13-year-old relative Villarreal is accused of raping.

When Rodriguez allegedly walked in on him attacking the girl, Villarreal feared she might report the abuse, Lopez said.

Every step of the way, the alleged rape victim was forced to play a role in her friend's death, he said.

She reportedly accompanied Villarreal and two accomplices as they kidnapped and tortured Rodriguez, and eventually disposed of her body.

Then, with a gun to her head, she reportedly dropped Briggette Mae out a car window as they fled the crime scene.

When U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Villarreal trying to sneak back into the country near Brownsville on Dec. 23, 2006, the 13-year-old girl was with him.

Eight months later, she gave birth to his child, Lopez said.

‘Circumstantial evidence'

Villarreal has remained in the Hidalgo County jail since his arrest, and maintained his innocence throughout.

Just before his trial began Monday, he turned down a plea offer from prosecutors that would have protected him from additional sexual assault charges should he agree to serve 60 years in prison.

"The entire case is built on nothing but circumstantial evidence," said his attorney, Jaime Alemán. "There will be nothing that directly links Samuel Villarreal to (Rodriguez's murder)."

Villarreal now faces capital murder charges that could result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty if he is convicted.

Authorities have arrested one other man and continue to search for another who they say helped Villarreal kidnap and kill Rodriguez.

The case of Juan Tello Hinojosa, 38, of Weslaco, is still pending in court. Sheriff's deputies believe Mario Luna, a possible illegal immigrant, has fled to Mexico.

Villarreal's trial is expected to resume today in Hidalgo County Criminal Auxiliary Court and last through at least the rest of the week.


Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach him at (956) 683-4437.

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