The Darker Side > Human Monsters

Jose Arnulfo Rodriguez


The man accused of trying to kill family members by driving a minivan into Offatts Bayou was obsessed with the Bible and responding to what he thought was a series of divine signs and orders from God, according to testimony Tuesday in a Galveston courtroom.

Sgt. Victor Trevino of the Galveston Police Department testified he interrogated Jose Arnulfo Rodriguez on Feb. 23, 2002, the same day that Rodriguez admitted driving the vehicle loaded with his wife, infant daughter and three other passengers into the bayou at the end of 89th Street.

Rodriguez, in the videotaped interview, told Trevino he had a dream the night before that suggested his final day on earth was coming. Then the first sign on the morning of Feb. 23 came when Rodriguez and his family went to a garage sale in Houston, Trevino quoted Rodriguez as saying. The garage sale to him “looked like Bethlehem. It was just like out of the Bible.”

Trevino described Rodriguez, now 27, as “very calm” during the two-hour interrogation and he acted as if “it was just another day.”

Other religious signs followed, Trevino said, including family plans to go to Kemah after the garage sale to buy fish, somehow tying that to “be a fisherman of men.”

They never arrived in Kemah. As Rodriguez drove along Interstate 45 South and near NASA, another sign came to him, one of rockets and their connections to the heavens. He then saw a white boat being pulled by a truck, Trevino said. Later testimony from a medical expert was that the boat reminded Rodriguez of Noah’s Ark. Other signs included a red motorcycle, a color that he associated with saving lives — and then he the words Santa Fe. The exit sign that he apparently saw was another divine sign. Santa Fe means “holy faith.” Trevino said much of Rodriguez’s comments were “gibberish.” “I’m thinking he’s in another world,” Trevino said. “He didn’t appear to understand the gravity of the situation.”

Also addressing the jury during the first day of testimony was Rosalinda Martinez, who is Rodriguez’s sister-in-law. She said Rodriguez became so obsessed with reading the Bible that he sometimes wouldn’t eat. Rodriguez lived in Houston and attended an Assembly of God church there. And Martinez spoke of the terrifying ride in the minivan from Houston to Galveston.

At one point, Rodriguez was driving on the wrong side of the road toward oncoming traffic, she said. She also testified he would stop at green lights and go on red lights.

Also in the vehicle was Martinez’s daughter, who is now 7 years old, and her 5-year-old son.

“I started to pray to God,” the tearful Martinez said. Then they exited the freeway at the south end of the Galveston freeway and Martinez said Rodriguez drove “faster and faster.”

Martinez said she and Rodriguez’s wife Maria started screaming, then after a few turns on streets the vehicle hit rocks “and we went into the water.”

As the water rose quickly in the vehicle, her children were pushing on her back and then she apparently went unconscious. The minivan, which had become airborne and landed some 25 feet from shore, was submerged under more than 10 feet of water. Fortunately for the occupants, the vehicle went into the water in front of several Texas A&M University at Galveston students, who were sailing in a regatta.

The students, including Luckey Reed, quickly dove down to the minivan breaking out windows with rocks and an anchor to rescue them. Reed testified how he reached inside the vehicle and saw the infant “who was cold stone white.”

Rodriguez was physically OK at the scene, but the other two adults and the three children were unconscious and were rushed to the hospital. They all recovered.

Rodriguez has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the offense. Dr. Victor Scarano, the chief of forensic psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, testified Rodriguez was insane at the time of the alleged offense. And Dr. Edward Gripon, a Beaumont private practitioner of psychiatry, is scheduled to testify today and is expected to say Rodriguez was insane at the time. Scarano testified Rodriguez was “acutely psychotic” at the time, even though he didn’t have any reported history of psychiatric problems. After being taken into custody and later evaluated, Rodriguez was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, Scarano said.

The trial is particularly unusual because no competing medical experts are testifying. Both medical experts testifying in the trial were court appointed and prosecutors are not challenging their testimony.

Rodriguez now takes anti-psychotic medication. Scarano said Rodriguez’s behavior is now normal as long as he takes medication. Scarano added he has determined that only Rodriguez and one other person were insane at the time of offenses out of hundreds of people he has evaluated. Prosecutors have said insanity is difficult for the defense to prove because of Texas’ legal standards and competing medical evaluations that are typical in trials.

Rodriguez is standing trial on four separate attempted capital murder indictments, because of the multiple victims and because two of the children were under 6 years old at the time.


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