Leo Rodriguez

Submitted Photo

A Tucson man who was a fugitive since before a jury convicted him on 65 stalking-related charges last summer is back behind bars.

Leo Rodriguez, 36, was picked up on an outstanding arrest warrant this month in Cochise County and appeared before Pima County Superior Court Judge Jane Eikleberry on Thursday.

Rodriguez was indicted in October 2009 on 68 felony charges including stalking, trafficking in the identity of another, computer tampering and aggravated harassment/domestic violence.

After he was indicted on similar charges the following year, he disappeared and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Last August, Deputy Pima County Attorney Julie Sottosanti took the first case to trial while Rodriguez remained a fugitive. Sottosanti presented evidence Rodriguez continually violated an order of protection by repeatedly following, texting and phoning his former girlfriend over a six-month period.

Evidence also was presented that he assaulted her sister, used a Tucson Police Department officer to track her and her relatives down, and accessed her phone account without permission.

Although the texts came anonymously from prepaid phones, the phones were linked to Rodriguez, in part, from the context. Some pleaded with the victim to resume their relationship, others were rage-filled rants filled with sexual slurs and threats.

The jury convicted Rodriguez on 65 of the 68 charges, making him eligible for a 35-year prison sentence.

On Thursday, Eikleberry scheduled Rodriguez's sentencing date for July 2.

Court files indicate defense attorney Rafael Gallego has asked Eikleberry to grant his client a new trial.

According to the motion, Rodriguez was "involuntarily" absent from his trial because the victim's family and friends threatened to kill him and had actually kidnapped and beat him at one point. Gallego told Eikleberry he has a police officer from Santa Ana, Sonora, willing to testify he came upon Rodriguez while Rodriguez was in the process of escaping from the beating.

Gallego also said he has a prosecutor from Magdalena, Sonora, who will testify the victim had an active warrant for her arrest stemming from Rodriguez's kidnapping.

Sottosanti, in her written response, said she and Gallego had decided not to bring up the alleged kidnapping event during the trial for several reasons. It allegedly took place "months, maybe even years" before the trial and there were no police reports available at the time of the trial.

The stalking victim maintains Rodriguez was stalking her in Mexico at the time of the incident and her brother hit Rodriguez with a metal object while defending her, Sottosanti said.

As for being "involuntarily absent," Sottosanti said Rodriguez attended every hearing in his first case until he learned of the second indictment. "He was not scared of the victim, he was scared of the law," she said.

Rodriguez never asked for additional security at his hearings, never asked to be taken into protective custody and never reported the alleged threats to police, Sottosanti said.

Gallego wants a new trial because Rodriguez wasn't there to assist him, but Rodriguez kept in telephone contact with Gallego throughout the trial, even trying to fire him the day before the trial began, Sottosanti said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com