Defense, DA sum up case of body in NYC high-rise

March 29, 2012 - 5:38 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A handyman never did any harm to an office cleaner he's charged with smothering and stuffing into a high-rise air-conditioning vent, his lawyer said, but prosecutors called their evidence against Joseph Pabon crushing.

Both sides made closing arguments in Pabon's murder trial Thursday. Jury deliberations were expected to start Friday.

The 27-year-old Pabon is accused of killing Eridania Rodriguez, a professional bodybuilder's sister who vanished while cleaning a skyscraper in security-conscious lower Manhattan one night in July 2009. Her body was found after a four-day search.

Pabon worked in the same building. The night the 46-year-old woman disappeared, he was running a freight elevator on overtime as movers cleared furniture out of a recently vacated office.

After asking a coworker where the cleaning woman was, Pabon said he needed to use a bathroom and had someone else take over the elevator; his whereabouts weren't captured on any of the building's security cameras for the next 42 minutes, according to evidence at the trial. When he reappeared on a camera, he was in a back hallway, with a shirt around his neck.

Pabon's DNA was found on Rodriguez's fingernails and he had scratches on his neck and elsewhere. Prosecutors said he took unusual and necessary routes through the building that night to track her down and kill her on a deserted floor and then left work early, saying he was sick. An alleged motive was not part of the case against him.

The evidence "crushingly proves that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Christine Keenan told jurors Thursday.

But Pabon's lawyers say authorities wrongly drew damning inferences from innocent circumstances and rushed to blame Pabon for a crime he didn't commit.

"That man right there didn't do a thing. Nothing," defense lawyer Mario Gallucci said in his closing argument.

Pabon barely knew Rodriguez, and he went home early because he was indeed sick, the defense says. His work involved heavy lifting that could explain the scratches on his body, and the sample of his DNA on Rodriguez's fingernails could have come from contact between the two in the course of handling a garbage bag, his lawyers say.

DNA from two other, unidentified men was found on evidence collected in the case, defense lawyers noted, and police said the building had had problems with vagrants sleeping in the stairwells.

Originally from San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez had lived in Manhattan for decades. She was married with three children and had worked for about a year at the building on Rector Street, a few blocks from the World Trade Center site.

Her bodybuilder brother, Victor Martinez, is a high-ranked competitor who has won the Arnold Classic, an annual event promoted by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Pabon, whose family is originally from Puerto Rico, had worked at the building for a few years.

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