HOUSTON TX June 8 2012 —Johoan Rodriguez was sentenced to 55 years in prison Friday for the intoxication manslaughter death of Houston police officer Kevin Will.
The jury began deliberating the sentence Thursday afternoon.
Rodriguez had pleaded guilty in the case before the trial began. Prosecutors were hoping for a life sentence.
Rodriguez had a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit when he raced through a police roadblock on the North Loop near Yale at an estimated 90 miles an hour on May 29, 2011.
Officer Will and other HPD officers were investigating a motorcycle crash and had closed the highway. Police dashcam video played for the jury during the one-week trial, and again during closing arguments, shows Rodriguez’s Volkswagen hitting Kevin Will; severing both legs and killing him instantly.
Defense attorneys asked the jury to take the suspect’s life history and his lack of a criminal record into account, and asked that he only be given 15 to 25 years in prison.
Rodriguez was brought to the U.S. illegally by his parents when he was 8 years old. His father, Juan, disappeared under mysterious circumstances when Rodriguez was 11 and was found murdered a few months later. Rodriguez was raised in Houston and went to Houston-area schools, until he dropped out of high school in the 11th grade. He has been deported from the U.S. twice.
Dozens of HPD officers filled the court each day to witness the proceedings.
During closing arguments, when prosecutors said none of this would have happened if Rodriguez had just stayed deported, Rodriguez sobbed and shouted that he just wanted to get back to the U.S. to see his sick grandfather.
Called as a character witness, the defendant’s mother, Maria Rodriguez, pleaded for mercy.
“I beg you for my son’s life. I know he made a mistake. But he is good,” she said. “He would have never wanted to do this. It was an accident.”
“He told you through his guilty verdict ‘I did it. I’m guilty’ and you heard him apologize the first chance he had. That is worth something in the face of life in prison,” said defense attorney Rick DeToto.
But prosecutors, driving several members of the jury to tears in their closing arguments and by playing the accident video again, said Rodriguez should be judged by the choices he made that night. He also had a small bag of cocaine in his pocket when he was arrested after the crash.
“If there’s a ton of bricks coming down on this defendant, it’s because on May 29, 2011, he put every single one of those bricks over his head. He made choices. That ton of bricks is his own making,” said prosecutor Catherine Evans.