Following seven days of testimony, a Millersville teenager was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he killed a Glen Burnie man who pawned his Xbox in December 2021.
Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Robert Thompson dismissed the case against Paul Pedro Rodriguez, 19, after presiding over the state’s half of the bench trial. He granted defense attorney David Putzi’s motion for acquittal once prosecutors Marot Williamson and Alessandro Pacheco rested, finding insufficient evidence to proceed.
Rodriguez was charged with first-degree murder, home invasion and a firearm offense.
Issuing his decision, Thompson said he believed the state’s star witness, Giovanni Thomas — a friend of the victim who was in the Glen Burnie apartment during the shooting — had “very little credibility,” acknowledging only one “piece of truth” in Thomas’ testimony: the witness never saw Rodriguez with a gun.
On Dec. 30, 2021, less than 24 hours after Jordan Marroquin-Pereira was shot, Rodriguez was arrested outside an Annapolis hotel he and his girlfriend had recently checked into. After obtaining a search warrant, officers found a “ghost gun” under the mattress in his room, though it was later ruled out as the murder weapon. Ghost guns are firearms that lack serial numbers and are assembled from parts often bought over the internet.
“Unless we have the gun,” Thompson said Tuesday, “we have reasonable doubt.”
Prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodriguez killed Marroquin-Pereira, 21, as he was trying to break into the latter’s Hideaway Loop apartment. The state pointed to the Dec. 29, 2021 shooting as the climax of Rodriguez’s alleged campaign to retrieve his Xbox, which was stolen a month earlier while the defendant was vacationing in Florida.
A few weeks before the shooting, Rodriguez was detained after another Hideaway Loop resident, the victim’s next-door neighbor, reported a break-in attempt at her back window. Police encountered Rodriguez walking from the back of the building with an empty duffle bag and a screwdriver. A ladder was also found beneath the neighbor’s window.
Rodriguez initially told officers he was picking up clothes from his girlfriend, who said he had to sneak in, but had chosen the wrong apartment. He then attempted to escape, running into a nearby bank of woods, before police caught and arrested him.
Sitting in the back of a police vehicle, he was heard on body-camera footage yelling to his girlfriend that he was trying to get his Xbox back. Rodriguez believed Thomas, who was homeless at the time and was known to stay with Marroquin-Pereira, had taken the gaming system.
Using data from Microsoft, police later learned that Marroquin-Pereira had pawned Rodriguez’s Xbox.
Rodriguez, who said he was under the influence during the attempted burglary, was released on his own recognizance and the case was put on the stet, or inactive, docket four months after he was arrested in connection with the shooting.
Police returned to Hideaway Loop the day before Marroquin-Pereira was killed. As night fell, an unknown person threw a rock through the victim’s window while a friend, Oscar Pineda, was inside dog sitting.
Marroquin-Pereira’s downstairs neighbor told police he saw two men, including one in a distinct red puffer jacket, outside his window. Police observed scuff marks on the brick outside the victim’s apartment and no arrests were made for the incident.
The next afternoon, the day of the shooting, another neighbor taking out the trash saw two men in red and black hoodies trying to force their way through Marroquin-Pereira’s door. During the struggle, there were three gunshots, one of which struck Marroquin-Pereira in the back, and the two men ran away.
Neighbors across the hall, a mother and son, called 911 and attempted to help Marroquin-Pereira. Though Thomas was in the room, they testified he did not perform any lifesaving measures on his friend, while the son saw and spoke to Pineda as he left the apartment.
Marroquin-Pereira was taken to a local hospital where he died of his injuries.
Anne Arundel County homicide detectives never interviewed the son, Putzi pointed out in court, and didn’t speak to Pineda until a week before trial, after Putzi’s investigators confirmed the dog sitter was at the apartment during the shooting. Until then, police and prosecutors had only placed Marroquin-Pereira and Thomas inside the apartment.
Both Thomas and Pineda would tell investigators they were in the back bedroom and that they were the only ones in the apartment, excluding the other.
The Capital is not identifying the Hideaway Loop residents who testified, as several expressed concern about possible retaliation.
Putzi described the prosecution’s position as a “half-truth” of what occurred. Acknowledging his client was one of the men outside the victim’s apartment, the defense attorney argued that either Thomas or Pineda shot their friend from inside the room.
As to the origin of the shots, Putzi’s accusation was supported by physical evidence. A medical examiner testified the shot entered the left side of Marroquin-Pereira’s back on a downward trajectory before striking and stopping at his spine. No shell casings were found at the scene, and though police found a red puffer jacket with gunshot residue during Rodriguez’s arrest, it neither matched the eyewitness’ description at the time of the shooting nor the description of the jacket from the night the rock was thrown.
The only bullet hole observed and investigated by police was found to the left of the door, inside the apartment. However, the neighbor’s son, who was not interviewed by detectives, testified that he found another hole on a storage door between the landing’s four apartments. Telling the court the hole was not there before the fatal shooting — it was also not investigated by police — his testimony further indicated a line of fire from behind the victim.
“The court was really left with no alternative,” Putzi told The Capital after the acquittal, thanking his investigators for “uncovering the truth” behind the shooting. “If that team wasn’t in place, we don’t know how this trial would have ended.”
Rodriguez’s stepfather was in court every day of the trial, surrounded by supporters from Antioch the Apostolic Church in Arnold.
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“We give all glory to God and are pleased with the decision of the Honorable Judge Thompson,” the stepfather said in a statement on behalf of the family. “Our hearts and prayers are with the Marroquin-Pereira family.”
Following the judge’s decision, Marroquin-Pereira’s mother yelled at Rodriguez and Putzi, chastising them before collapsing in grief between a courtroom bench and the rail. Several family members consoled her.
“We understand there’s no solace for the family in the decision granted,” Upchurch said, “but we pray what was shown throughout the trial will lead to further pursuit of the truth for the Marroquin-Pereira family.”
In a statement, State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said her office “does not shy away from trying difficult cases.” Leitess’ office did not comment on whether prosecutors will be pursuing charges against Pineda or Thomas.
“What the victim and his family endured is heartbreaking,” Leitess said. “Although we are disappointed in the outcome, I remain proud of the hard work of the officers and prosecutors who handled the case. We will continue to pursue justice for all victims of violent crime.”