Handyman convicted in skyscraper cleaner's murder

April 3, 2012 5:17:53 AM PDT
A handyman was convicted Monday of suffocating a cleaning woman and stuffing her body in an air-conditioning duct in an office tower where they were working at night.

Joseph Pabon was found guilty of kidnapping and murder in the July 2009 death of Eridania Rodriguez, a professional bodybuilder's sister. Rodriguez, 46, disappeared while cleaning a skyscraper in security-conscious lower Manhattan, spurring an intense four-day search before her body was found.

Pabon, 27, denied killing her. His lawyers said authorities had woven a criminal case out of coincidences and innocent conduct. But jurors concluded he had abducted her as she cleaned and smothered her, covering her mouth with industrial tape. He faces the possibility of up to life in prison at a May 11 sentencing.

Rodriguez's sister, Denise Figueroa, wept as she left the courthouse.

"It's Joseph Pabon's turn now to suffer," Figueroa said. "You don't call that person a human being - he's an animal."

Defense lawyer Mario Gallucci noted that although Pabon was convicted of a murder charge that involves killing in the course of another felony - in his case, kidnapping - he was acquitted of equally serious counts of intentional murder and reckless murder.

That "said a lot to me. It said that the jurors listened, they deliberated and they thought about it" during two full days of deliberations, Gallucci said. He said he would explore possibilities for an appeal.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said Pabon tracked Rodriguez down and killed her on a deserted floor of the building, a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. Prosecutors said he hid her body in the air vent and then told co-workers he was sick and went home early.

"He senselessly and brutally murdered her and discarded her body as if it were trash," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.

Pabon's DNA was found on Rodriguez's fingernails, and he had scratches on his neck and elsewhere. He took unusual and unnecessary routes through the building that night and wasn't seen on security cameras for 42 minutes after asking a co-worker where the cleaning woman was, prosecutors said.

The evidence "crushingly proves that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Christine Keenan told jurors in a closing argument.

But Pabon's lawyers said authorities rushed to judgment in charging him and misinterpreted blameless behavior as sinister.

Pabon went home early simply because he truly was sick, the DNA sample could have come from routine work contact between Pabon and Rodriguez and the scratches could have come from heavy lifting at his job, the defense said. DNA from two unidentified men was found on evidence collected in the case, and police said vagrants sometimes slept in the building's stairwells, defense lawyers noted.

"That man right there didn't do a thing. Nothing," Gallucci said in his closing argument.

Pabon, whose family is originally from Puerto Rico, had worked at the building for a few years.

Rodriguez, originally from San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, was married with three children and had worked at the building for about a year. Her bodybuilder brother, Victor Martinez, is a high-ranked competitor who has won the Arnold Classic, an annual event promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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