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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Annette Morales-Rodriguez and the C-Section Murders

     In October 2011, Annette Morales-Rodriguez, a 34-year-old mother of three, lived with a boyfriend who was expecting her to give birth to their baby within a matter of days. But that wasn't going to happen because she had been faking her pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez had lied to this man twice before about being pregnant, and in the past, to avoid exposure as a liar and a fake, had falsely reported a pair of miscarriages. Running out of time and desperate, Morales-Rodriguez decided to kidnap a woman about to give birth, and steal the fetus by performing a crude Caesarean section using knowledge she had acquired from watching a show on the Discovery Channel.

     In search of a victim and her baby, Morales-Rodriguez showed up at a Hispanic community center in Milwaukee where she encountered 23-year-old Maritza Ramirez-Cruz who was in her 40th week of pregnancy. Morales-Rodriguez lured her intended victim into her car by offering her a ride home. Along the way, Morales-Rodriguez stopped at her house to change her shoes while the unsuspecting Ramirez-Cruz waited outside in the car. When Morales-Rodriguez didn't make a timely return to the vehicle, her passenger walked up to the house, knocked on the door, and asked if she could use the bathroom.

     Shortly after inviting the pregnant woman into her home, Morales-Rodriguez smashed her in the head with a baseball bat, then choked her until she passed out. After binding the victim's hands and feet with duct tape, and covering her nose and mouth with the tape, Morales-Rodriguez sliced into the pregnant woman's body with a X-Acto knife exposing the fetus. After removing the baby boy from his dead mother, Rodriguez realized she had killed the newborn as well.

     After she deposited Rameriz-Cruz's blood-soaked body in her basement, Morales-Rodriguez called 911 and informed the dispatcher she had just given birth to a baby that wasn't breathing. Paramedics who rushed to the scene confirmed that the infant was dead. At this point, the emergency responders had no reason to suspect foul play. They cleaned off the infant, wrapped it in a towel, and handed it to the woman who had just murdered it.

     When the medical examiner performed the autopsy, it became obvious that the baby had been removed from its mother's body by an amateur. This crude procedure had caused its death. A police search of Morales-Rodriguez's house resulted in the discovery of the disemboweled corpse with the duct tape still in place. According to the forensic pathologist, Ramirez-Cruz had died of blood loss and asphyxiation. The baby had been stillborn.

     Following her arrest, in a videotaped interrogation at the Milwaukee police station by detective Rodolfo Gomez, Morales-Rodriguez explained in Spanish how her boyfriend's expectations had caused her to kidnap and home-C-section the young pregnant woman. In other words, she had murdered a pregnant woman to save her relationship with her boyfriend.

     Charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Morales-Rodriguez went on trial in early September 2012. She pleaded not guilty to the murder charges on the ground it had not been her intention to kill the mother and her baby.

     On September 20, 2012, the jury of six men and six women found the defendant guilty as charged. Because Wisconsin didn't have the death penalty, Annette Morales-Rodriguez faced a mandatory life sentence. It was up to the judge to determine if she would be eligible for parole.

     Given the fact this woman had brutally murdered a total stranger, and killed the victim's baby through a crude C-section, Judge David Borowski, on December 13, 2012, sentenced Rodriquez to life in prison with no chance of parole. 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Seth Mazzaglia Murder Case

     In 2011, after graduating from  high school in Westborough, Massachusetts, Elizabeth Marriott attended Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. Following her freshman year in Manchester, she transferred to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. The 19-year-old marine biology major commuted to the university's main campus from her aunt and uncle's home in Chester. To help pay for her schooling she worked at the Target store in the neighboring community of Greenland.

     Elizabeth, who went by "Lizzi," walked out of class at nine at night on October 9, 2012 with the intent of visiting friends at an apartment in Dover, a town of 30,000 in the southeast corner of the state not far from the university. Her friends notified the authorities when Lizzi didn't show up in Dover and couldn't be located elsewhere.

     Three days after Marriott's disappearance, detectives questioned 29-year-old Seth Mazzaglia, a resident of Dover. The 2006 graduate of the University of New Hampshire had earned a bachelor's degree in theater. Over the past ten years, Mazzaglia, more of a character actor than a leading man type, had performed in plays and musicals around southeast New Hampshire. According to his Facebook page, he had a black belt in karate, instructed others in the martial arts, and liked to juggle. Mazzaglia also professed to have a special interest in stage-craft fighting.

     Mazzaglia told detectives that he met Lizzi Marriott in the summer of 2011 when they worked at the Greenland, New Hampshire Target store. At the time of the interview he was employed in the video game section of the Best Buy store in Newington, New Hampshire.

     Mazzaglia informed his questioners that he and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Kathryn McDonough, a high school dropout, had invited Marriott to join them in his apartment on October 9, 2012 for three-way, bondage sex. Mazzaglia said that Marriott did not show up at his apartment that particular evening.

     When questioned again later in the day, Mazzaglia changed his story. He said he had gone out for a run and upon his return to the apartment found Marriott dead with a ligature mark around her neck. He explained that earlier in the evening Kathryn McDonough and another man had engaged in bondage sex with Marriott. Later in the interrogation, Mazzaglia reluctantly admitted that he was the man who had participated in the threesome that evening.

     Mazzaglia said that he, McDonough, and Marriott had played strip poker that night. That activity led to sexual intercourse involving a rope-restraint used to limit Marriott's ability to breathe. During that voluntary activity, Marriott suffered a seizure and died. The death, according to Mazzaglia, was an accidental event in the course of consensual but rough sex.

     Instead of reporting the death to the authorities, Mazzaglia tied a grocery bag over the dead woman's head. At eleven o'clock that night, McDonough's friend, Roberta Gerkin and her housemate, came to the apartment at McDonough's request. Gerkin, according to a statement she gave the police, said she saw a white female lying on the floor with a grocery bag covering her head.

     Gerkin told detectives that when she used a box cutter to remove the sack, it exposed the victim's bluish tinted face. Meanwhile, according to Gerkin, Mazzaglia and his girlfriend engaged in a discussion of how they would dispose of the body.

     During his session with detectives, Mazzaglia said he used Marriott's Mazda to haul her body to Pierce Island in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where and McDonough dumped the corpse into the Piscataqua River. The pair then drove Marriott's car to the University of New Hampshire where they left it in a student parking lot. The couple discarded Marriott's clothing in trash bins on campus.

     Police officers and volunteers searched for Marriott's body in the Piscataqua River around the 27-acre Pierce Island. They found no trace of her remains. Notwithstanding the absence of a body, a Strafford County prosecutor charged Mazzaglia with first-degree murder. Police officers arrested him on October 13, 2012. The judge denied the murder suspect bail.

     On December 24, 2012, detectives arrested Kathryn McDonough on the charges of conspiracy and hindering prosecution. She posted her $35,000 bond and walked out of jail on the condition she stayed with her parents in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In 2013, McDonough pleaded guilty to the charges. The judge, aware that McDonough had agreed to help the prosecution against Mazzaglia, sentenced her to 18 months to three years in prison. Given her role in Lizzi Marriott's death, this depraved young woman had gotten off light. Because the prosecutor in the no-body case needed McDonough's testimony to establish the murder and the defendant's role in it, McDonough had escaped a stiffer sentence.

     The Seth Mazzaglia murder trial got underway in Dover, New Hampshire on Monday, June 2, 2014. Two days later, Kathryn McDonough, the prosecution's star witness, took the stand under government immunity from the charge of first-degree murder. The witness said that on October 9, 2012, she had lured Marriott to Mazzaglia's apartment with the promise of watching a movie or playing a video game. In reality she had wanted to please Mazzaglia with a new sex partner.

     Following a game of strip poker, Mazzaglia said he wanted Marriott and McDonough to kiss. Marriott refused. Mazzaglia next suggested that Marriott watch as he and McDonough had sex. Marriott said she wasn't interested. Unaccustomed to not getting his way, Mazzaglia strangled Marriott with a soft cotton rope used in bondage sex. After witnessing the murder, McDonough went into the bathroom and when she returned, saw her boyfriend having sex with the corpse.

     McDonough testified that she and Mazzaglia stuffed the victim's body into a large suitcase and drove to the Piscataqua River where they knew the currents were strong. The couple tossed the corpse over a railing but the five-foot-five, 130-pound body landed on the rocks short of the water line. McDonough climbed down and dragged the victim's body into the river.

     On cross-examination, Mazzaglia's attorney, Joachim Barth, proposed that McDonough had killed Lizzi Marriott when the victim refused to have sex with the defendant. Barth reminded the witness that when she first spoke with the police she had taken responsibility for Marriott's death. The defense attorney suggested that the witness had changed her story in return for government immunity and a light sentence.

     Defense attorney Barth also grilled the witness about her claim to have alternative personalities--different characters she used as a "coping mechanism." McDonough responded that she was not controlled by the voices. During the cross-examination, McDonough revealed that Mazzaglia believed that he had been a dragon in a past life. Being around the defendant had strengthened her own beliefs in the supernatural.

     On June 27, 2014, following 19 days of testimony that did not include the defendant taking the stand on his own behalf, the jury found Mazzaglia guilty of first-degree murder by strangulation. The jury also found him guilty of first-degree murder while committing a felonious assault. The panel of seven women and five men also found the defendant guilty of conspiracy to tamper with evidence as well as the destruction of physical evidence.

     On August 14, 2014, at the Mazzaglia sentence hearing, the victim's mother, in addressing the convicted murderer, said, "I want you to know that I unequivocally hate you. You are a cowardly, despicable person. You stole our smart, vivacious, beautiful daughter from us. You murdered Lizzi, raped her lifeless body, and then threw her away because Lizzi had the self-confidence and self-esteem to say no to you."

     When it came his turn to speak, Mazzaglia said, "I did not rape and murder Elizabeth Marriott. However, I do understand the Marriott family's pain and I did play a part in covering up her death, a mistake I tried to correct when investigators came to me and I showed them exactly where I left Lizzi's body. Unfortunately, they were unable to recover her and for that I am truly sorry. My heart goes out to the Marriott family and I am sorry for their loss."

     Judge Steven Houran sentenced Seth Mazzaglia to the maximum penalty, life in prison without the possibility of parole.