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Man found guilty in 1995 Burley cold case murder
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Man found guilty in 1995 Burley cold case murder

From the May crime report: School shooting, murder trial, sex offender lawsuit and more series
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BURLEY — A Burley man has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the 1995 slaying of a 14-year-old girl.

Gilberto Flores Rodriguez’s first-degree murder case was placed in the hands of a 12-person jury on Tuesday afternoon after a weeklong trial. The jury returned its guilty verdict at 4 p.m. after deliberating 3½ hours.

Verdict

Gilberto Flores Rodriguez prepares to leave the courtroom with his attorneys Tuesday after a jury found him guilty of the murder of Regina Krieger, 14 in 1995.

Four alternates were randomly picked out of the 16 member panel and excused and the jury was left in the courtroom with instructions and the evidence.

After returning to the courtroom later, Rodriguez was asked to stand as the verdict was read, his lower face still covered in a COVID-19 mask. He appeared stoic.

Members of the public in the galley were warned by the bailiff before entering the courtroom to maintain decorum and when the verdict was delivered they remained silent, but tears were present in many eyes.

Cassia County Prosecutor McCord Larsen and the victim’s mother, Rhonda Hunnel, declined to comment until after the sentencing hearing, which will be in about 14 weeks.

Rodriguez was charged in 2019 with murdering Regina Krieger, who disappeared from her basement bedroom in 1995. She was found weeks later with a slash wound across her throat and stabbed in the heart.

Her death notice ran April 18, 1995, in the Times-News, after horseback riders found her decomposed body near the Montgomery Bridge east of Rupert, nearly two months after she disappeared from the father’s home in Burley.

During closing arguments, each side had an opportunity to remind the jury of key evidence and try to persuade them on the interpretation of it.

But opening and closing arguments are not considered part of the evidence that a jury uses to make a decision.

Rodriguez attorney Keith Roark told the jury during closing arguments that the prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of “liars,” and asked the jurors “which story should they believe after the state’s witnesses gave inconsistent statements to police over the years.”

“Swans don’t swim in the sewer,” Cassia County Prosecutor McCord Larsen said about the character of the state’s witnesses in the case.

Court witnesses are seldom rabbis and priests, he said.

One of the state’s top witnesses, prison inmate Cody Thompson, said he was 16 years old and Rodriguez was 32 when Rodriguez murdered Krieger and forced him to help load her body in his car and dump it in the river, near the now torn-down Jackson Bridge.

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He admitted to telling lies to police, changing his story and committing perjury in court in another case.

Roark said the state did not present any “real evidence” and had presented “a bunch of lies by jailhouse snitches.”

Larsen said Thompson was a teenager when the murder occurred, did not have good experiences with law enforcement, and was intimidated and frightened of Rodriguez.

The weight of the case is borne on Thompson’s shoulders, he said.

Larsen said the jurors just need to use “their common sense and their judgment to figure out who is telling the truth.”

The state, he reminded them, did not have to prove everything brought up during the trial, only the elements in the jury instructions that include finding beyond a reasonable doubt that Rodriguez committed the murder.

The jury could have found Rodriguez guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Roark also highlighted the mistakes made by police over the years and that DNA evidence collected from Krieger’s body, which was tested and compared to Rodriguez’s just a few years ago, did not match.

“The only real physical evidence they have doesn’t incriminate this man, it exonerates him,” Roark said.

Roark also talked about what was not known about the case like who Krieger had been with that day, was anyone else in the house when the murder occurred, and if so, why they didn’t hear the brutal murder, and if she unlocked the backdoor to let the murderer into the house.

“No one was interested in that, the police didn’t check those possibilities out,” he said.

The police, he said, did not take the case seriously at first and counted her as a run-away until her murdered body washed up on the river bank.

He also pointed out that the heavy object she was hit with and the knife used in the other injuries were never found.

The judicial system, Roark said, is set up to make it difficult to convict a person who is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It is not the burden of the defendant to prove their innocence.

Larsen said there were many conflicting statements made by Thompson but the jury should believe the testimony that was presented at trial.

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