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Five years later, death ruled accident now a homicide

Police, prosecutors refuse mother's pleas to press criminal case

October 15, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

In his initial written statement, Godwin said Miranda motioned for Rubio to stop loading dirt, climbed up to the cab of the red-and-white Bobcat and tried to forcefully pull him out. Godwin said he pulled Miranda off and took him to the side, but Miranda ran to the earthmover again, jumped onto the front wheel and grabbed the handlebar as the driver went forward. Godwin told police that "it appeared as if … his foot slipped off."

In a more detailed interview with police later, Godwin told police that he and Miranda had engaged in a "pushing contest" over use of the machine.

But years later, in September 2010, while being questioned by an attorney hired by Miranda's parents as part of a civil suit, Godwin said state police had mischaracterized the "pushing match." He said they gave each other "the one-two," which he described as playful boxing match between buddies.

He again said Miranda climbed onto the Bobcat's wheel and slipped.

Godwin, through his attorney, Jeffrey P. Hanes, declined to comment for this article.

Police interviewed Rubio in Spanish shortly after the incident, and then again three months later. Police said landscape officials wanted him to have an attorney present, but Rubio declined. After that interview, Rubio went back to Mexico, and subsequent attempts by police and by lawyers for Miranda's family to find him have been unsuccessful.

Rubio never mentioned in either interview with police any attempt by Miranda to pull him from the Bobcat. What Godwin described in some interviews as an angry and agitated exchange, Rubio portrayed as casual banter.

"Let me borrow your machine," Rubio quoted Miranda saying.

"OK, I am almost done," Rubio said he answered.

The state police report says that to Rubio, "it appeared that Miranda agreed and began to walk toward the rear. Rubio stated that he watched through the cage until Miranda had passed the rear wheel and was not able to see him anymore. … He continued to back up. Rubio advised that is when he determined the accident happened."

Several workers told police that Rubio, upon learning what happened, was distraught, beating his chest and calling out in Spanish for a priest.

Adrienne Miranda had worked as a marketing director for a nonprofit helping children with disabilities. She lived in a comfortable house in Lutherville, where she raised her two sons, Joseph and Robert Miranda Jr.

After Joseph died, she gave up her career at age 50 and exhausted her home equity line of credit to investigate her son's death. She fought stress and exhaustion, describing her schedule as "all day, all night." She sent more than 5,000 emails to attorneys, police, prosecutors and other investigators, all signed, "Adrienne Miranda (Mother of Joseph)," and with the line, "Truth and Justice for Joseph must prevail."

When a judge threw out a lawsuit alleging negligence by the state police and 42 other law enforcement officials, she wrote her own 35-page legal brief and compiled a 240-page exhibit. An appellate court refused to hear the case. Undaunted, she successfully pushed state lawmakers to pass a law that requires a notification on all death certificates that people can challenge a medical examiner's findings.

And when she learned through the medical examiner that a state police trooper had given him crime scene photographs and conflicting statements from witnesses, she immediately sought out the report from the trooper, who was advising the original investigation.

She wrote seven letters to state officials before she got that report. When she finally read it, she concluded that the trooper shared her doubts about the case and suspicions that it had been closed prematurely.

In his report, Trooper Richard T. Bachtell wrote that he sought in October 2006 to administer a lie detector test to Godwin, noting that Godwin had told three different police officers three different stories. But such a test was never given.

Bachtell also wrote that Ali, the assistant medical examiner, told him after reviewing the photos and statements "that it was likely the Bobcat was moving backward, the victim was prone, and the rear tire ran over him." Bachtell wrote: "This information was not consistent with initial belief that the victim had fallen between the two left side wheels."

Ali then changed the cause of death from accidental to undetermined.

Nonetheless, state police closed their investigation in July 2007, concluding Miranda died in an "industrial accident" with "no signs of foul play."

Miranda said she believes that Bachtell's bosses ignored his concerns and prematurely ended the investigation. Bachtell, through a state police spokesman, declined to comment.

The spokesman, Gregory M. Shipley, described Bachtell's role in the case as advisory — the primary detectives were in the Westminster barracks. He said Bachtell told him that he "was never pressured to do or not do anything during his participation in the investigation."

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