A nine-year Army veteran who said he suffers from service-related post-traumatic stress disorder was sentenced Tuesday to 18 to 36 years in prison for strangling a woman in 2012 during a night fueled by drink and crack cocaine.
Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi told Larry Rodriguez that although officials were not able to access his military records, she did not doubt he suffered from PTSD.
But DeFino-Nastasi said it was equally clear Rodriguez knew he became very violent when using alcohol and crack, because in 2008 he tried to strangle his mother.
"You knew it. You knew it from the beginning, and yet you continued to do [crack] and you strangled that woman," the judge told Rodriguez.
"That woman" was Sonya Lewis, 41, who worked as a prostitute. The judge said it's "frightening to think you could attack two women in such a similar fashion."
Because he will appeal, Rodriguez said nothing before sentencing on the advice of lawyer Joseph J. Valvo.
Rodriguez, 43, appeared to be seething, and refused to respond when the judge asked him whether he understood his appeal rights.
As a sheriff's deputy led Rodriguez from the courtroom, he turned to his mother, Doris, glared, and in Spanish called her a derogatory name.
On Oct. 5, a Philadelphia jury found Rodriguez guilty of third-degree murder in Lewis' strangling.
According to Assistant District Attorney Alisa Shver, some time on the night of June 29, 2012, Lewis went to Rodriguez's apartment on Poplar Street just west of Broad Street in Fairmount.
Shver said Lewis was last heard from around 2 a.m. June 30. Four hours later, her friends went to Rodriguez's apartment and demanded to see her.
Shver said Rodriguez denied that Lewis was there, but her friends got in after threatening to pull a fire alarm. Her body was under a mattress in the bedroom.
Valvo argued that Rodriguez's problems resulted from PTSD from being near an explosion in Iraq.
Valvo said Rodriguez - who was born in Panama and reared in South Jersey - wandered the country, stopping at veterans' hospitals as needed after his honorable discharge.
A defense witness who works with veterans in trouble, Riverside lawyer Richard A. Isolda, said Rodriguez's Department of Veterans Affairs medical file is 800 pages but shows "he can do something with his life, using his intellect to help people."
Shver, however, said those same records don't corroborate his military experiences, disagree about in which branch Rodriguez served, and note some VA doctors believed he was malingering to avoid discharge from the hospital.
Shver said records show that in Rodriguez's dealings with female nurses, "he has a problem with women and a problem with being disrespected."