Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-7233 or call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1.
TAMPA — A man charged with the murders of a woman and her newborn baby beat the woman to death as she pleaded for help and a witness tried to intervene, court documents show.
Jay Leonard Rodriguez, 49, was arrested Saturday and charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of the woman and baby. Prosecutors on Monday filed a motion asking a judge to hold Rodriguez in jail without bail while he awaits trial.
The motion and an arrest report include an account from a witness, Jessica Gonzalez, who tried to help the woman and was threatened by Rodriguez.
Gonzalez told investigators that she heard the woman screaming for help around 3:25 p.m. from the bedroom of a home at 2217 E Emma St. Gonzales told investigators that Rodriguez was the woman’s boyfriend and they had been staying at the home, the motion says.
The woman’s name has not been released and is not included in the court records.
Gonzalez entered the room and saw Rodriguez punching the woman in the face with his fist as she “was cowering down to her knees,” according to the motion. The woman, who was visibly pregnant and about six months along, screamed, “Help me.”
“Ms. Gonzalez told the defendant to stop hitting her, but the defendant then balled up his fist and turned toward the witness,” the motion says. “The defendant threatened Ms. Gonzalez with physical violence if she tried to get involved.”
Gonzalez said Rodriguez then threw the woman to the tile floor, kicked her several times in the face and stomach and stomped her in the face and stomach, according to the motion. The woman lost consciousness and lay motionless while Rodriguez continued to punch and kick her.
Gonzalez called 911 and Rodriguez left the house. Seeing that the woman was struggling to breathe, Gonzalez performed CPR with instructions from the dispatcher. Tampa police arrived to find the woman unresponsive and “severely bruised and swollen around her head.”
Paramedics took the woman to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors delivered the baby girl at 4:15 a.m. The woman was pronounced dead about 10 minutes later and her daughter, who had a heartbeat when she was born, died about 10 minutes after that, records say.
The Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office found the woman had suffered a number of blunt impacts to her head and torso. There was also evidence of “shoe tread impression” on her body.
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Police arrested Rodriguez later Saturday at his mother’s house in the 6900 block of N Tampania Ave. He admitted to police that he got into a physical altercation with the woman but said he only grabbed her by the hair and face because she slapped him, records say.
Jail records list Rodriguez’s occupation as warehouseman for a food company.
The Tampa Police Department has not released the woman’s name due to its interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that’s meant to protect crime victims but deprives the public of information that had long been available under Florida’s public records laws.
A Tampa police spokesman also cited Marsy’s Law in declining to answer whether Rodriguez is the father of the baby who died.
In the pretrial detention motion, prosecutors with the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office note that Rodriguez was on probation for attempted armed robbery at the time of his arrest Saturday. A hearing on the motion is set for Friday.
Records show that Rodriguez has spent most of the last two decades in prison.
He served his first stint 2003 to 2013 for armed robbery, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, shooting into a building or vehicle and fleeing from law enforcement.
In July 2013, a Tampa woman filed a restraining order against Rodriguez. In the petition filed in Hillsborough County, the woman wrote that he had punched her head and body, pushed her into a table, broke her front door and furniture, and threatened her life.
“Jay has stated to me no man is going to have me; that he was going to kill me,” the woman wrote.
In December 2013, about 11 months after his release, Rodriguez was arrested after trying to rob a Hungry Howie’s on North Armenia Avenue in Tampa, records show. He pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery and was sentenced to five years in state prison followed by 10 years of probation. He was released from prison in February 2019.
Three months later, in May, Rodriguez got into an argument on Lake Avenue in Tampa, entered a vehicle and accelerated toward pedestrians standing on a city easement, an arrest report says. A man on a motorized scooter had to jump off and out of the way to avoid being struck as the vehicle crushed the scooter.
Rodriguez ran away from a Tampa police officer during the investigation, the report says. He was arrested on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and fleeing from law enforcement.
According to case notes provided by the Hillsborough STate Attorney’s Office, prosecutors decided to drop the case because the man on the scooter told investigators he believed Rodriguez “was trying to get away from (an) affray situation (and) did not think defendant’s actions were willful.”