For Immediate Release - July 15, 2009

SJC Upholds Convictions In Lawrence Murder

In separate decisions, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the first-degree murder convictions of Richard Molina and Anibal Rodriquez for the 1998 murder of Hector Hernandez of Lawrence. They were tried separately in 2001.

Molina paid Rodriquez to help him murder Hernandez in Lawrence sometime between the evening of October 19 and the early morning of October 20, 1998. Rodriquez then drove the victim's van, with the body in the back seat, to Methuen and abandoned it near a farm.

On October 20, Methuen police discovered the abandoned van with the body inside it. Hernandez had been stabbed five times across his chest, once in his lower abdomen and once through the left forearm. He had also been strangled by a cord or rope, had suffered from blunt force head trauma and had been run over by the van.

Attorney Janet Pumphrey argued that Molina's Federal and State constitutional rights were denied because his trial counsel did not learn until the fourth day of the trial that a key prosecution witness (Miguel Valentin) was a confidential police informant in unrelated cases and therefore the judge should have excluded his testimony; that trial counsel did not have the proper copy of the forensic expert's report; and that a witness was allowed to testify as to his opinion on a murder weapon.

Rodriquez's lawyer, David Skeels, argued in his appeal that the judge should not have permitted Valentin to testify that, shortly before the murder, Molina offered him money or drugs to help him kill someone in the same fashion in which the victim was later murdered. Valentin, who was a long-time state police drug informant, declined Molina's offer.

The SJC affirmed Rodriquez's first degree murder conviction on July 2, 2009 and Molina's on July 10, 2009. Essex Assistant District Attorney Kenneth E. Steinfield handled the appeal. The case was originally prosecuted by Essex Assistant District Attorney William Melkonian.

Molina was convicted of murder in the first degree by reason of extreme atrocity or cruelty and Rodriquez was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theory of felony-murder. Both men are serving a life sentence in state prison without parole.

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