Man insists co-defendant shot woman, forced him to drive over her
Jurors viewed the shooting and attempted murder of a woman two years ago through a new lenses Friday during the trial of Roberto Rodriguez III.
One version of events showed a man swept into a desperate situation involving his friend and the woman he’d just slept with. Another painted him as a man willing to lie and to blame other people for the shooting.
Rodriguez, 21, is charged with counts of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault and conspiracy as one of the two people accused of shooting Meredith Keltner and leaving her for dead in rural York County in June 2020.
Rodriguez testified in his defense Friday, the fifth day of his trial in York County Common Pleas Court, and put the gun that shot Keltner in the hands of his co-defendant: Francisco Torres Rivera.
“Who shot Meredith Keltner on June 12, 2020?” asked Catherine Law, Rodriguez’s attorney.
“‘Esteban,’” he replied, referring to the name he knew Torres Rivera by in 2020.
Torres Rivera, 30, also of York, faces the same charges and is set to be prosecuted separately after the cases were severed in February.
In the setup, Rodriguez said he was an addict who sold marijuana and Percocet at the time. He denied that he sold crack cocaine. Torres Rivera, he alleged, was a pimp and a dealer out of a so-called trap house in the 200 block of East Princess Street, while also apparently noting he either fronted Torres Rivera cash to buy drugs or drugs to sell.
Rodriguez said he believed Keltner was one of Torres Rivera’s prostitutes.
He spotted Keltner dancing and drinking on a balcony of the building the night of June 11, he said, and he called up to her from the alley below. Though believing she was a prostitute, he said he invited her to go to a motel with him to drink, get high and maybe have sex. She agreed. And they checked into a place.
Not much happened, according to Rodriguez, except for the drugs, sex and the two later falling asleep. He described Keltner as “normal,” indicating she was different from her behavior during her testimony for the prosecution on Tuesday, which he described as more “scatter-brained.”
“She was nice. Nothing that you guys seen, she was not like that. She was normal, funny, and that’s about it,” Rodriguez said.
He denied Keltner’s statements that he had a silver gun, or that they fought at the motel. The morning of June 12, they woke up, checked out and stopped at a convenience store before Rodriguez drove Keltner back to East Princess Street on his way to work, he said.
There, Torres Rivera came down and climbed into the backseat of Rodriguez’s car while asking for a ride, Rodriguez testified. Keltner also seemed to stiffen and grow quiet, he said. Rodriguez thought they were going out on a drug buy, but about five minutes into the drive, as they left the city, he said, a bad feeling started settling in him.
“I felt weird," he said, "but it’s normal for me to give him rides. I didn’t really go with my guts at all."
Torres Rivera told him not to worry about where they were going, Rodriguez said. But once they reached a hill on Smyser Road in North Codorus Township, Torres Rivera told him to pull a U-turn and stop in a wooded area.
He barked a demand in Spanish from the back of the car, and Rodriguez said he relayed it by yelling at Keltner to get out. Keltner resisted at first, not wanting to be left in the middle of the road. Torres Rivera climbed out of the car, opened Keltner’s door and pulled her out.
Rodriguez said he saw Torres Rivera with a gun in his hand as he ordered Keltner to walk. But then Keltner started to turn.
“As she was turning around, the gun started going off,” Rodriguez said. “It was so quick: 10 seconds, 20 seconds.”
He alleged Torres Rivera pointed the gun toward the woman’s head and fired four or five times, tracking her as Keltner dropped to the ground. Torres Rivera allegedly then hopped back into the car, pointed the gun at Rodriguez and told him to drive.
“I was shocked, and all I was paying attention to was the gun in his hand,” Rodriguez said. “I felt horrible, scared. I thought I was going to be next.”
He put the car in gear and drove, running over Keltner in the process: “The car bumped … I drove over her,” he said.
A woman sitting behind the defense table got up and left the courtroom in tears at that point in the testimony. Rodriguez also seemed bleary-eyed as he recounted the events surrounding Keltner's shooting.
A passerby found Keltner in the road near Indian Rock Dam Road sometime after she was shot. And she survived her injuries.
During the investigation, and leading up to Rodriguez’s arrest, he was interviewed by police. He admitted to the jury that at the time he was high on Percocet and lied to investigators multiple times. That included withholding information or giving other names as suspects.
Rodriguez said he lied out of fear for his life and his family’s lives for snitching.
“Now I’m saying the truth,” he said. “What happened wasn’t right.”
On cross-examination, while combing through his testimony, Chief Deputy District Attorney Melanie Wiesman asked why Rodriguez didn’t drive off when the situation became dangerous, why he didn’t try to help Keltner, why he didn’t call police after the shooting, or why he didn’t come forward sooner.
“You left her for dead as well, didn’t you?” Wiesman asked.
“It wasn’t my intent,” he replied, insisting he feared for his life in the moment and if he snitched. “I had no choice … I was in shock, I was scared.”
He also denied that he ever got out of the car.
Wiesman made a point in her questioning, that after naming false suspects, Rodriguez is now accusing Torres Rivera amid an ongoing effort to keep the blame off himself.
“It’s other people’s fault, not yours, correct?”
Wiesman also delved into a series of texts Torres Rivera allegedly sent to one of Rodriguez’s mobile phones the night Rodriguez and Keltner slept together. Many of the texts used very close, familiar terms that were apparently culturally coded, according to Rodriguez, as well as using street codes.
In some of the texts, as Rodriguez translated them from Spanish, Torres Rivera warned him about Keltner and to wear protection. One provided an amount, which Rodriguez said was Torres Rivera telling him he’d lose money. He later said he wasn’t sure what the text meant exactly, and also denied he paid to sleep with Keltner.
In several more texts that morning before Rodriguez and Keltner left the motel, Torres Rivera seems to check in on Rodriguez while also preparing to move some drugs.
“Let me know if everything’s OK, if everything’s going to be OK so I can go to sleep,” Rodriguez translated from one text.
Several more texts after the shooting indicated Torres Rivera was checking on Rodriguez, looking for assurance and looking to talk. Rodriguez didn’t respond to the messages, saying he no longer considered Torres Rivera a friend. He also acknowledged that the gun from the shooting was never found while denying he ever had a silver gun.
The texts were read during cross-examination following a dispute between the prosecution and defense over whether they were admissible at trial. Judge Amber Kraft said Rodriguez could be asked about them and he could testify to his interpretation.
The trial is expected to continue Monday.
The next hearing in Torres Rivera’s case is scheduled for May 23.
— Aimee Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @aimee_TYD.