The defense attorney for a Lompoc man accused of attempted murder in the stabbing of his pregnant girlfriend said the man was blacked out on alcohol and didn’t legally intend to kill her.
But a prosecutor in his trial said he had repeatedly stabbed and threatened to kill her in the past.
Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Brian Michael Rodriguez, 26, of Lompoc, who faces more than two dozen felony charges, including attempted murder, for an incident that occurred in Cambria in July 2014.
Rodriguez, his girlfriend — referred to in court as Vanessa Doe because she is allegedly a victim of domestic abuse — her two young children from a previous relationship and the couple’s 7-month-old son visited friends at the friends’ ranch-style home in Cambria.
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Rodriguez allegedly drank beer throughout the evening, according to court records. At some point, he barged in on his girlfriend in a restroom and allegedly tried to urinate on her.
When she stopped him, forcing him to urinate on himself, he became angry, punched her in the head and face, and called her a whore.
Shortly afterward, Rodriguez allegedly threatened the victim with a small knife, saying, “I’m going to stab you and kill you,” then cut her multiple times on the arm and once in the back.
He has pleaded not guilty.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Deputy District Attorney Greg Devitt told jurors that the stabbing was only the latest in a series of five similar incidents that left her with small wounds. In those episodes, Vanessa treated herself with gauze, bandages and rum, he said, and did not seek professional medical help.
“Again and again and again, he stabbed her,” Devitt said. “It was attack, after attack, after attack.”
Devitt said that jurors would see text messages in which Rodriguez told her he “wanted her crippled, wanted her in a wheelchair, wanted her dead.”
But Rodriguez’s “pattern of violence” did not start with Vanessa, Devitt said. Court documents show Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a felony in July 2008 after stabbing his ex-wife in the forearm. The victim in that case said she was helping Rodriguez’s mother, who was in a wheelchair, into a car, when the defendant accused his wife of turning his mother against him. In that case, he stabbed his wife in the presence of their children, according to records.
Devitt told jurors he plans to call Vanessa to the witness stand to recount the night of the stabbing and detail Rodriguez’s history of abuse.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Raymond Allen didn’t hesitate to call Rodriguez’s stabbing of his girlfriend “terrible” and “horrible,” and acknowledged that testimony would reveal past abuse.
“All of that will come out,” Allen said. “So then why are we here? We’re here because some of the charges require specific intent.”
Allen said Rodriguez is not guilty of attempted murder, for example, because his alcohol-fueled blackout, combined with underlying mental health issues, precluded him from possessing the intent required for a conviction.
“That’s where we differ,” Allen said.
To back that up, Allen said he plans to call forensic psychiatrist Dr. Caroline Murphy, who examined Rodriguez, found him to be truthful and diagnosed him with a personality disorder. Allen said Murphy would further testify to Rodriguez’s past diagnoses of depression and attention-deficit disorder with antisocial and sadistic traits.
Another witness, Dr. David Smith, an expert on alcohol-induced blackouts, will testify that a person in the midst of a blackout cannot “encode” events and facts into the brain, nor can they retrieve the memory later.
“Mr. Rodriguez did a horrible thing,” Allen told jurors. “However, you’re going to find he didn’t have the intent to kill Vanessa.”
Testimony continues Thursday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.