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Jury trial begins for Mankato man accused of criminal sex

NEW ULM — A jury trial for a 19-year-old Mankato man accused of three counts of criminal sexual conduct at the New Ulm Econo Lodge last August began in Brown County District Court Tuesday. Jury selection was held and a jury of seven women and five men was seated.

Malachi H. Rodriguez, 408 W. 7th St., Mankato, faces felony third and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charges plus a gross misdemeanor fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

According to the complaint, New Ulm Police talked with a man Aug. 12, 2020, who said his daughter said she was sexually assaulted by Rodriguez on Aug. 8, 2020, at the Econo Lodge. The man said his daughter initially didn’t want to tell anyone about the assault because she was afraid about spoiling a family wedding in New Ulm.

The alleged victim told a New Ulm Police investigator she attended a groom’s supper with her family in New Ulm Aug. 7 until about midnight before returning to her hotel room with her sister and cousins.

She said Rodriguez, her first cousin, asked to stay in the room with the three girls; and that she slept in a bed with Rodriguez, and the other two women slept in another bed.

The alleged victim said she awoke at about 4 a.m. when Rodriguez assaulted her.

The alleged victim said she immediately went into a bathroom, took a long shower and later told her sister and cousin about the sexual assault. She said she, her sister and cousin agreed not to tell anyone else about the assault until after the wedding taking place that day.

In addition, the alleged victim said her sister didn’t want to sleep near Rodriguez because of “prior things” including events in Willmar in 2009 and in Mankato in 2016 when she was seven or eight and 14 or 15 years old.

Judge Docherty told the jury the prior events in Willmar and Mankato were admissible as evidence in the case but should not be used to consider the current three charges against Rodriguez.

In her opening argument, Assistant Brown County Attorney Andrea Lieser said the BCA found Rodriguez’ semen in the victim’s shorts and that jury will find Rodriguez guilty of all charges.

“This case is very simple and straight-forward. Malachi Rodriguez drove from Mankato to New Ulm on Aug. 7, 2020, to be a groomsman in a wedding,” said Mankato defense attorney Patrick Casey. “He agreed to sleep on the floor, went to the wedding rehearsal, dinner, and a big party in New Ulm. He slept on a bed. There was no sign of a struggle. He rolled over on her, took off his shirt and they had sex. The only issue here is consent.”

The alleged victim’s 18-year-old first cousin testified she offered an air mattress for Rodriguez to sleep on that night but he didn’t use it. She testified she woke up about 4 a.m. and saw the victim staring at her, “acting different than her normal self.”

“She told me he kept scooting closer and closer to her and she kept scooting away, but he got closer and closer, and told me she was raped, she was in shock and scared, and I was in shock,” said the alleged victim’s first cousin. “She didn’t tell anyone else at first because it was may uncle’s wedding. I told her if she didn’t tell anyone else, I would.”

Rodriguez’ cousin testified she slept in a motel bed with her sister next to Rodriguez and the alleged victim.

“In the past, I’ve been uncomfortable sleeping with my cousin Malachi because of the past,” testified his cousin. “One time, he placed his hand on my leg. Another time, I was sleeping on an air mattress and he tried to climb into it during the night.”

Rodriguez’ cousin testified the alleged victim told her he raped her that night.

“She told me she wasn’t going to tell her mother about it, but I told her if she didn’t tell her, I would,” testified Rodriguez’ cousin.

Joshua Rodriguez of Granite Falls testified his daughter told him Malachi Rodriguez raped her the night before the wedding.

“I felt disbelief and anger. We called police,” Joshua Rodriguez testified.

New Ulm Police Senior Investigator Jeff Hohensee testified he learned from the father of the alleged victim on Aug. 12, 2020, of a sexual assault that took place Aug. 7 in New Ulm. He contacted Granite Falls Police and interviewed two female witnesses at the Granite Falls Police Dept. Aug. 12.

Hohensee testified the witnesses verified the alleged sexual assault and that he called Malachi Rodriguez to set up an interview, but Rodriguez did not show up. Hohensee also interviewed the alleged victim.

In addition, Hohensee testified he received the alleged victim’s shorts and t-shirt she wore at the time of the alleged rape and placed them into evidence bags that were sent to the Minnesota BCA.

Hohensee testified he got a search warrant and went to Malachi Rodriguez’ Mankato residence and took a mouth swab for DNA evidence that was sent to the BCA.

The jury trial continues at 9 a.m. Thursday.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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