‘Kensington Strangler’ found guilty, gets 3 life terms

Posted: August 17, 2012

Antonio Rodriguez, the 23-year-old identified as the Kensington Strangler through DNA and his own chillingly clinical confessions of how he raped and killed three women, was convicted Thursday of murder and sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, who heard the nonjury trial, found Rodriguez guilty of first-degree murder, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and abuse of corpse in the cases of Elaine Goldberg, 21; Nicole Piacentini, 35; and Casey Mahoney, 27.

Minehart called the three 2010 murders "horrific" and told Rodriguez: "You not only violated these women when they were alive, you violated them after they were dead. You didn't even give them peace."

Rodriguez did not testify and said nothing before he was sentenced to the mandatory life terms without parole. He stood, flanked by sheriff's deputies, rocking rhythmically side to side.

Rodriguez was sentenced right after the veteran homicide judge announced the verdict, but not before relatives described how the victims were loved and how the murders had wracked their lives.

"There is evil in this world and I have met it in this courtroom," said Robert Ruff, Goldberg's uncle.

Victim-impact statements are often filled with anger at the defendant, but Ruff's proved to be the exception in the courtroom Thursday.

In the last, dark days of their lives, according to trial testimony, the three women were addicted to drugs and had turned to prostitution to feed their habits.

On Wednesday, their families focused on happier times.

Joseph Goldberg called his oldest daughter "beautiful inside and out," and told how she helped care for her younger siblings. She was a popular student at Little Flower High School and an aspiring nurse at Gwynedd-Mercy College, he said.

"There are no words," Goldberg said. "There's just a huge part of me that died. I can see it in the faces of my children and her mother."

Leo M. Keller, Piacentini's stepfather, talked about the four children she left behind.

"When these things occur, it makes you question what is wrong with humanity that people do these things to each other," said the retired firefighter.

Keller then surprised many in court by looking at Rodriguez: "Believe it or not, go in peace, Mr. Rodriguez. May God be with you, because I know he's here with me."

Merri Kanzenberg, Mahoney's aunt and godmother, told Minehart she and Mahoney's mother, Shannon, lost not just a niece and daughter but her remains. Mahoney's body was cremated, she said, and the ashes released to a friend in East Stroudsburg, Pa., when police could not find Kanzenberg or her sister, who live on Long Island.

"We have suffered heartbreak that is a lifetime," she added. "There is no closure."

Rodriguez glanced periodically at his victims' relatives as they testified but showed no reaction.

Assistant District Attorneys Carlos Vega and Bridget Kirn decried Rodriguez's depravity in raping the women before and after they were dead and posing their half-naked bodies so they were "exposed to the world."

Vega pointed to the families and said the women's murders in November and December 2010 had forever poisoned the holidays for them.

"He has changed these people," Vega said. "Now, when it starts to get cold and there's a chill in the air, it's the chill of death."

Defense attorney William L. Bowe, who did not present any witnesses, said afterward that Rodriguez would appeal.

Bowe's defense effectively ended in January when, after an extensive psychological and background investigation of Rodriguez, he persuaded prosecutors to withdraw their plan to seek the death penalty if Rodriguez agreed to a nonjury trial.

The trial was anticlimactic. Identified through DNA, Rodriguez's last hope was that Minehart might suppress three brutally graphic statements he gave detectives after his Jan. 17, 2011, arrest. Rodriguez, a neighborhood drug seller, described strangling the women after bargaining for sex on the streets of Kensington.

When Minehart denied the suppression motion, the verdict was all but certain.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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