Thirty-two years ago, Patricia Moreno was found with a gunshot wound to the head on a third-floor apartment fire escape in Massachusetts, prosecutors say.
The 17-year-old had been shot outside the Malden foster home where she had been living, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office said in an Aug. 16 news release.
Now, a jury has found Rodney Daniels guilty of first-degree murder in connection with Moreno’s death, prosecutors said.
An attorney for Daniels did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment on Aug. 22.
Daniels pleaded not guilty after his 2021 arraignment, The Associated Press reported.
“When a family loses a loved one in a homicide, even the passage of time never fully heals that wound,” District Attorney Marian Ryan said in the release. “Those who knew and loved Tricia have been waiting over three decades for answers.”
Not enough evidence for arrest
Prior to her death, Moreno was living with her foster mother, along with the mother’s two teenage daughters, prosecutors said. Daniels, one of the daughter’s boyfriend, also lived at the apartment.
On the night of the shooting, July 20, 1991, Moreno was taken to a hospital, where she later died, prosecutors said.
Though detectives searched for a weapon or cartridge casing, prosecutors said nothing was found on scene.
A projectile was found in Moreno’s body during an autopsy and was determined to be from a .38-caliber gun, according to prosecutors.
All those who lived in the apartment, which had no signs of forced entry, told detectives “they had heard a pair of gunshots” but had no information about the shooter, prosecutors said.
Daniels told police he was “sleeping in an armchair in the living room when he was awakened by the sound of two gunshots,” the district attorney’s office said.
Daniels told police Moreno’s mother called police after he found her on the fire escape, prosecutors said.
Police later learned Daniels had multiple handguns, including “one that was consistent with a .38 caliber revolver,” prosecutors said.
Daniels had also threatened Moreno in the weeks leading to the shooting, the district attorney’s office said.
However, despite numerous interviews over many years, prosecutors said there was not enough “sufficient evidence to make an arrest.”
Reexamining the case
The district attorney’s office said it took another look at the case in 2020.
Investigators returned to the crime scene and “reconstructed the position of Tricia on the third-floor fire escape,” prosecutors said.
Based on this, prosecutors said investigators determined Moreno was shot by someone “standing in the area of the doorway of the apartment.”
Next, investigators interviewed witnesses again, prosecutors said.
Investigators spoke with a former resident of the apartment complex who had lived on the second floor, prosecutors said.
After being awaken by a loud noise, he looked up “through the third-floor fire escape” to see a young woman, Moreno, “struggling to breathe with a male standing over her,” the district attorney’s office said. The witness said the man then ran into the apartment.
The witness’s physical description of the man matched that of Daniels’, prosecutors said.
Investigators also learned an alibi witness, who has since died, had lied to investigators and an investigating grand jury in 1991, prosecutors said.
She told family and friends Daniels had killed Moreno and that he hid the “weapon inside an armchair,” then got rid of it, the district attorney’s office said.
Based on the new evidence, investigators were able to get a warrant for Daniels’ arrest, prosecutors said.
He was arrested at his Georgia home on Sept. 27, 2021, prosecutors said.
Malden is about 5 miles north of downtown Boston.