A 34-year-old man who lived streamed himself more than a year ago while leading state troopers on a high-speed chase in a northeast Lubbock neighborhood was sentenced Thursday to 35 years in prison at the end of a three-day trial.
Jurors deliberated for about an hour and 1/2 before returning to the 137th District Court room with their verdict convicting Kain Rodriguez of evading arrest or detention in a vehicle. However, they did not find that Rodriguez used his vehicle as a deadly weapon, which could have aggravated his offense and required him to serve half of his sentence before he would be eligible for parole.
Rodriguez opted for Judge John McClendon to determine his punishment.
Rodriguez has been held at the Lubbock County Detention Center since his arrest on Nov. 20, 2020. However, his charge stems from an April 5, 2019 chase that began when a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper noticed an expired license plate on Rodriguez's pickup truck.
The trooper was the only witness prosecutors called to the stand in the guilt-innocence phase of the trial. Jurors also watched dashcam footage of trooper Alan Johnstone, which captured his pursuit of Rodriguez, who immediately sped away after the trooper activated his lights and sirens to pull over Rodriguez.
The trooper's dash cam never lost sight of Rodriguez's pickup, which could be seen weaving in and out of traffic, traveling in the wrong lanes and ignoring multiple stop signs.
Rodriguez's pickup could be seen crossing bar ditches, driving through parks and near schools at high speeds.
The trooper told jurors the chase reached up to 80 mph as it snaked through residential streets where people walked on sidewalks.
Prosecutors also showed them a video that Rodriguez live-streamed from his Facebook account. Rodriguez starts the video winking into his camera, which appeared to be mounted on his dashboard. He immediately notices the trooper behind him as he approaches a red light at the intersection of Marsha Sharp Freeway and I-27. He merges into the center lane behind two other vehicles and the trooper stops at the front of the left lane. Rodriguez switched his camera view to show the trooper ahead of him.
Once the light turns green, the trooper waits for the center-lane traffic to pass him so he could drive behind Rodriguez, who was traveling eastbound on Marsha Sharp. In the pickup, Rodriguez continues to glance at his rear-view mirror as the trooper gets behind him.
Rodriguez flashes a wide smile when the trooper activated his lights and sirens, but Rodriguez continues driving.
"Damn," Rodriguez could be heard saying.
Throughout most of the pursuit, Rodriguez's could be heard cursing but appeared amused as he continues to evade the trooper and jostled in his seat as the vehicle drives off road.
"Oh, this is good baby," Rodriguez could be heard as he drives his pickup through a park, which appeared to be empty.
However, an expression of worry begins to wash over Rodriguez's face as he realizes that he's unable to escape the trooper's pursuit.
"(Expletive)," he tells his viewers. "This (expletive's) on me. I can't lose him."
In court, Rodriguez bowed his head as the video from his social media account is played to jurors.
Meanwhile, Johnstone told jurors more troopers joined the pursuit, which ended near the intersection of Third Street and Elder Avenue where Rodriguez's pickup stalled and died.
In Rodriguez's video, the defendant appears to hit a rough patch of road that jostles him and rocks his phone out of it's mount. However, the video continues to record and Rodriguez could be heard unsuccessfully trying to start his truck again as troopers in the background screamed at him to exit his vehicle.
Rodriguez could be heard telling the troopers, who trained their weapons at him, that his driver side door was jammed and asked them to stop pointing their weapons at him.
"I don't got nothing," he says. "I don't got (expletive). I don't have nothing."
The troopers ordered him to climb out through the window and Rodriguez picks up his phone as he exits his vehicle, telling his viewers, "I love you, guys."
Rodriguez continued to record the episode as troopers order him to the ground and the video ends with Rodriguez winking at the camera once last time as he lays face down on the ground.
Troopers pried the cell phone from his hand and realized he'd been live streaming the whole time.
Rodriguez's attorney, Nick Olguin, told jurors that it was clear his client was guilty of the evading charge. However, he told them that prosecutors were unfairly asking them to speculate about whether Rodriguez was using his vehicle as a deadly weapon.
He said the evidence at trial showed he client never lost control of his vehicle and never struck a person or property. He described the case against his client as a "victimless crime."
"(Prosecutors) are now asking you to speculate what could have happened," he said. "I'd like for you to focus on what exactly happened."
However, prosecutor Greg Jerman told jurors that Rodriguez's actions put everyone who was out on the road that day at risk of death or serious bodily injury.
"What he's saying is that we shouldn't take this seriously until someone is seriously injured."
He said Rodriguez's brazenly recorded his actions as he used his pickup truck as a deadly weapon as he tried to escape the trooper.
"He was trying to lose that (trooper) and in the course he put a lot of lives at risk," he said. "And we're asking you to hold him accountable for that."
Evading arrest with a vehicle is a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years in prison. However, Rodriguez faced an enhanced punishment range of 25 years to life in prison after prosecutors presented the court with Rodriguez's prior convictions: a burglary of a habitation in 2007 and an evading arrest in 2012, to enhance his . In both convictions, Rodriguez was sentenced to prison.
Rodriguez was also convicted of endangering a child by racing on a highway with an unrestrained child. He was also put on juvenile probation when he was 13 but sent to the Texas Youth Commission two years later.
The court also watched video of Rodriguez's behavior after the crash during which he was combative with troopers, cursing at them, calling them "Nazis."
As he struggled against troopers he started complaining about having trouble breathing and began to dry heaving.
Paramedics were called to the scene and troopers told them that Rodriguez reportedly said that he'd taken heroin.
One of the paramedics who treated Rodriguez told the court that she administered Narcan, a drug that counteracts opioids. However, Rodriguez's behavior continued to escalate as he thrashed on the stretcher, hallucinated and challenged the Johnstone to fight.
Ultimately, the paramedic administered a sedative to Rodriguez before he was handed over to the hospital where he aspirated and was in a coma for about five days.
It was later discovered that Rodriguez was under the influence of synthetic marijuana.
At the hospital, a psychologist evaluated Rodriguez, who said he wanted to stop using drugs, and recommended his transfer to a substance abuse facility. However, Rodriguez fled from the hospital two days later.
Rodriguez's mother, who testified at his punishment hearing, told the court that her son saw that his made the news and that he was going to be arrested.
Rodriguez's mother asked the court for mercy saying her son was a good person who suffered from a drug addiction that drove his criminal behavior.
She said as a child, her son was negatively influenced by his father. In fact the judgement on Rodriguez juvenile criminal case showed that his father contributed to his delinquent behavior.
Olguin also called on two jailers who described Rodriguez as a model inmate who can be a contributing member of the community.
A long time neighbor of Rodriguez said she insisted on testifying saying she believed the defendant was a good person who made a mistake.
Jerman told the court that Rodriguez deserved a hefty sentence, saying his criminal history showed he has squandered the state's attempts to rehabilitate him since he was 13.
He said based on his history, it's likely that Rodriguez will reoffend. Jerman told the court based on Rodriguez's criminal history, the court's punishment should focus on the safety of the community.
"He poses a danger to the public," he said. "He has for a long time."
Olguin asked the court for a 25-year prison sentence, telling the court that his client has made strides to improve his life in the 22 months he's been incarcerated at the jail.
He said his client was on a downward spiral the day he fled from the troopers. He said his client's criminal behavior was fueled by an addiction to drugs.
"He's not a violent individual," he said. "He's a person that can be redeemed. He's a person that can be saved."
McClendon told Rodriguez the prosecutors and his defense attorney presented compelling cases. However, he told Rodriguez he believed a 25-year sentence was inappropriate.
"You have a pattern or a history of things happening in vehicles that shouldn't be happening at all," he said. "Drugs or not."
After the judge pronounced his sentence, Rodriguez stood up and apologized to the court, to law enforcement, his family and to the community.
He will be eligible for parole after service about 1/4 of his sentence.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Driver sentenced to 35 years for evading in a vehicle