A New York man facing charges in connection with the hot-car deaths of his 1-year-old twins drew support from his wife and other relatives and friends Thursday morning, as they packed a Bronx courtroom during a brief hearing.
Juan Rodriguez, 39, learned in Thursday’s hearing that the district attorney had not yet asked a grand jury to determine whether to indict him.
At a news conference afterward, he stood silently, with his wife Marissa Rodriguez holding his arm, as his attorney said he hopes the prosecutor will ultimately not pursue the case.
Another hearing will be held August 27 to determine whether a grand jury has been convened, said his attorney Joey Jackson, who is also a CNN analyst.
“We are hopeful that that will not be the case,” Jackson said.
“We are speaking to the district attorney’s office to convey to them what I think they know and understand, that this was a horrific and terrible tragedy,” Jackson said.
Rodriguez was arrested after his twins, Luna and Phoenix, were found Friday afternoon unresponsive in the back seats of his Honda sedan in the Bronx, allegedly after having been in the car for about eight hours, the New York Police Department said.
Rodriguez had been working that day at a nearby Veterans Affairs hospital, and he told investigators that he assumed he had dropped them off at a day care facility that morning, police said in a criminal complaint filed in court.
Temperatures that Friday reached highs in the mid-80s, according to the National Weather Service. The twins were pronounced dead on the scene.
Rodriguez was arraigned on Saturday in New York on charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child, according to the New York City Police Department. He pleaded not guilty, said Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the Bronx District Attorney.
His wife has said it was a ‘horrific accident’
Rodriguez, who was released Saturday after posting bail, appeared in court Thursday with a large crowd — including his wife, relatives and friends — there to support him.
The crowd was large enough that court officers removed some people not associated with the case — such as defendants and attorneys awaiting other cases — from the courtroom.
Wearing a gray suit, Rodriguez appeared somber. He exhaled deeply and wiped sweat from his brow at one point while attorneys were speaking with the judge.
Rodriguez has waived his right to speedy trial, understanding the need for a thorough investigation by the district attorney’s office, Jackson said Thursday.
Rodriguez and his wife have three other children, ages 4, 12 and 16, Jackson said.
In a statement that Jackson provided to CNN on Sunday, Marissa Rodriguez said that the deaths were “a horrific accident,” and that she needs her husband “by my side to go through this together.”
“Though I am hurting more than I ever imagined possible, I still love my husband,” she said. “He is a good person and great father and I know he would’ve never done anything to hurt our children intentionally. I will never get over this loss and I know he will never forgive himself for this mistake.”
Police: Rodriguez said he assumed he dropped the children off at day care
Criminal negligent homicide carries a maximum of four years in prison and manslaughter carries a maximum of 15 years, Jackson has said.
According to a criminal complaint filed in court, the twins were in the back seats of Rodriguez’s vehicle from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday while Rodriguez was at work. By the time the father returned to his car, the twins were no longer breathing. Emergency workers were called, and the children were pronounced dead at the scene.
The court document says Rodriguez told police something to the effect of, “I assumed I dropped them off at day care before I went to work. I blanked out. My babies are dead. I killed my babies.”
“His mental state is very fragile based on what happened. It’s just an awful scenario,” Jackson said at a news conference Saturday evening.
“The (Rodriguez) family is ripped apart,” Jackson said, adding that his client has three other children and has the support of his family and friends.
A first birthday
Rodriguez and his wife celebrated the twins’ first birthday earlier in July, said his friend, Temple Barros.
“We had a huge birthday for them,” Barros, the manager of an indoor skydiving business, said. “We had bounce houses, bubble machines. They went all out. They even had portable air condition machines to keep people cool.”
The mother is “not believing what happened,” he said. “Their parenting is amazing. I’m at a loss.”
Barros added, “I literally just saw the twins a night before. Their daughter was waving at me in the window.”
“He’s always been an amazing father. Whatever they need, he’ll go out and get it.”
Rodriguez is a social worker at the VA hospital, Barros said.
Hospital spokesman Jim Connell confirmed Rodriguez is an employee and offered this statement:
“The entire hospital community is saddened by news of this tragic event. While the situation is currently under the jurisdiction of local authorities, we offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences to the family. As matter of respect to the family during this difficult time, and with due regard to their privacy, we have no further comment at this time.”