Homeless man accused of setting girlfriend on fire claims police didn't read him his rights

Defendant trying to get statements suppressed in murder trial

April 19, 2011|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

A 49-year-old homeless man who Howard County police say set his girlfriend on fire last October is trying to get statements he made to officers and emergency personnel suppressed at his trial, claiming he was not read his Miranda rights.

During a motions hearing Tuesday in Circuit Court, the attorney for Richard Rodola questioned three officers and two EMTs about what Rodola told them as he was being treated for burns that police say he suffered while he was setting Pamela Myers, 37, on fire in a wooded area where they lived in Laurel.

Rodola was initially charged with first-degree attempted murder, but that was amended to first-degree murder when Myers, who was taken to Bayview Medical Center with burns covering over 70 percent of her body, died nearly a month after the Oct. 23 incident.

Sgt. Aaron Dombrowsky told prosecutors that after finding Rodola at a nearby industrial park, where he was arrested and handcuffed, Rodola said what happened was "an accident" and told the officer, "I'm turning myself in." Dombrowsky said that Rodola also told him, "We had a barbeque and we both got barbequed."

Dombrowsky said Rodola "smelled of burnt flesh and hair." Dombrowsky said that he briefly took the handcuffs off Rodola to treat his burns, but that Rodola was handcuffed again as he sat waiting for an ambulance.

Under cross-examination from Sam Truette, Rodola's public defender, Dombrowsky said he did not read Rodola his rights and did not hear anyone else read him his rights. Dombrowsky said there was a reason why he didn't read him his rights, but was not asked for it in court.

Another officer is expected to testify Thursday before closing arguments. A motions hearing is scheduled for mid-July, and a trial has been scheduled for early August. Rodola is being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center.

Rodola is also trying to get taped telephone conversations he had while in jail suppressed. Circuit Court judge Diane O. Leasure is expected to rule on Rodola's motion to suppress his statements and conversations on Thursday.

According to charging documents, friends of Rodola and Myers who also lived in what an officer described as a "tented city" near the 9100 block of Washington Boulevard called 911 after they saw Rodola douse Myers with gasoline and set her on fire. The two had been arguing, Michael Sanders and Melissa McCully told police.

In court Tuesday, assistant state's attorney Doug Nelsen played a tape from the 911 call during which Sanders is heard screaming, "My friend's on fire! She was sitting on a chair and he lit her!"

Sgt. Eric Brown, one of the first officers to respond to the scene, said that he found the friends of Rodola and Meyers "extremely upset."

Brown said that Sanders and McCully put him on a cell phone with a man he was told was Rodola, who the officer said was "rambling, mumbling" but seemed remorseful, saying, "I'm sorry. I wanted to see how she is."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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