Defendant Rolando Rodriguez showed no emotion as the word “guilty” rang out four times in Grand Forks County Courtroom 303 on the afternoon of Friday, Aug. 30.
The 39-year-old, dressed in a blue polo shirt and jeans, spun his chair from side to side and watched jurors as they one-by-one agreed he was guilty of gross sexual imposition, burglary, terrorizing and assault. The 12-person panel found him not guilty of interference during an emergency call after about five hours of deliberation.
Rodriguez, who represented himself during the four-day trial, will return to court Dec. 30 for sentencing. The gross sexual imposition charge holds a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.
The case, which is more than a year old, was complicated by conflicting statements made by Rodriguez and the victim, who recanted portions of her allegations when she took the stand on Thursday, Aug. 29.
During the trial, Rodriguez claimed she elaborated the entire story.
On May 21, 2018, Rodriguez broke into a woman’s home, then beat, sexually assaulted and threatened to kill her with a knife. The woman, with whom Rodriguez previously had a romantic relationship, told jurors she made up the sexual assault because she was angry with Rodriguez.
Photos showed the woman’s bruised eye, chin and side. Body camera footage from the responding officers showed her frantically recalling how Rodriguez kicked in the door around 6:40 a.m. May 21, 2018, then ran to her bedroom, threw her phone across the room before she called for help then punched her continuously. She said Rodriguez sexually assaulted her in the hallway before grabbing a knife and threatening to kill her as he backed her into a bedroom.
A car honked outside and the woman said she seized the opportunity to flee the apartment as Rodriguez peered out the window. Security footage shows her bolting out the door, wearing only a tank top and underwear, as Rodriguez chased her.
The neighbor who called 911 told jurors she’d heard Rodriguez yell, “I’m going to f*****g kill you, b***h!” as he chased her through the apartment’s shared hallways.
Rodriguez testified in a narrative format when he had his opportunity on the stand. He told jurors on Friday that he lived with the woman and couldn’t find his keys, so he kicked down the door. Previous testimony proved he was not on the lease. The woman also testified that Rodriguez was not living in her home during the assault and he had been acting erratically three days prior.
Rodriguez said the woman threw her phone at him and began to attack him in her bedroom and he injured her accidentally as he tried to get away, he told jurors.
He then claimed the woman pulled the kitchen knife on him, though prosecutors questioned why he would have been chasing her from the apartment if he was the victim.
Rodriguez played a recorded phone call between him and the woman from his time at the Grand Forks County Correctional Center and also showed jurors text messages and voicemails.
In the recordings, the woman said she wanted the gross sexual imposition charge dismissed. In some messages she asserts she’s telling the truth about her claims -- “I don’t have any reason to lie.” But in others, she apologized to Rodriguez and said she lied to police about the sexual assault. She told jurors she lied to police because she was angry at Rodriguez.
Prosecutors questioned if the woman was being honest on the stand or recanting her statements because she wanted to protect Rodriguez. She said in the messages that she didn’t want him to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Grand Forks County Assistant State’s Attorney Rachel Egstad told the jury that something can still be true even if a victim wants the charges to be dropped. She said the state saw substantial evidence in the case.
“Justice must be served,” she said.