Mon, Nov 09, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Florida shooting suspect mentally ill, lawyer says

‘NO LOGIC’ Jason Rodriguez, who allegedly shot six people, is a schizophrenic who is constantly paranoid, his former mother-in-law said

AP , ORLANDO, FLORIDA

His marriage went sour long ago, his home was taken in foreclosure, his job lost to incompetence and his finances sunk in bankruptcy. Everything that Jason Rodriguez sought ended in failure. Except his alleged plot to kill.

The 40-year-old man whose life seemed to just keep getting worse was charged on Saturday with first-degree murder, accused of killing one and wounding five on Friday at his former office.

He said nothing in his brief court appearance on Saturday, but his attorney portrayed him as a mentally ill man who fell victim to countless problems.

“This guy is a compilation of the front page of the entire year — unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce — all of the stresses,” public defender Bob Wesley said. “He has been declining in mental health. There is no logic whatsoever, which points to a mental health case. It looks like a classic case of stress overload.”

Police refused to say anything more on Saturday about their investigation into the shooting. But as Rodriguez remained on suicide watch at the Orange County Jail, a portrait of his crumbling life began to emerge.

He could not pay the child support he owed for his eight-year-old son. He was nearly US$90,000 behind on bills, his bankruptcy file showed. A once-promising, but short-lived career at an engineering firm faded into a job at a fast-food chain.

Wesley described his client as “very, very mentally ill” but offered no specifics. His former mother-in-law, America Holloway, said he was a schizophrenic who was constantly paranoid, blaming others for all of his woes and who always thought everyone disliked him.

The suspect’s own mother struggled on Saturday for words to defend her son. She could only muster an apology.

“Sorry for the families involved,” Ana Rodriguez said. “I’m really very sorry, it is very hurtful.”

Police said Rodriguez himself also offered words of remorse as he was handcuffed on Friday, explaining he was just going through a tough time. But it offered little solace to victims, all of whom worked at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, where the suspect was an entry-level engineer for 11 months before being fired in June 2007.

Identified as the single fatality in the shooting spree was Otis Beckford, 26, the father of a seven-month-old daughter who was standing near the receptionist’s desk when the gunman entered the office.

Beckford’s mother told the Palm Beach Post that she had last talked to him on Thursday night, firming up the family’s Thanksgiving plans.

“Now, he won’t be there,” Icilda Cole told the newspaper.

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