Blood on their hands

Six hours after County mental health officials sent a psychotic man back home, he killed his mother and young niece.

Conversation during dinner that night was forced, Lulu said. Rodney just sat and stared off into space and she, too, had felt uncomfortable in his presence.

But Lulu and Lenny didn't think twice about going out for a while after dinner. It never entered their minds that Rodney posed a danger to their little girl or to his mom.

"The best way that I could describe it," Lulu Saldana says, "is like if somebody were to have chopped off my legs and my arms and I had to learn how to live life a different way. My mind would just travel to ugly places, thinking ugly things, thinking of what happened that night."

Rodney Aviles was so delusional that he thought "evil" family members had disfigured him.
David Hollenbach
Rodney Aviles was so delusional that he thought "evil" family members had disfigured him.
Mauricia Aviles and her niece Alexia, about a year before 
the murders.
Mauricia Aviles and her niece Alexia, about a year before the murders.

Asked to describe the effect of Alexia's death on Lenny, Lulu Saldana says simply, "It killed him."

The murders also shattered Lenny and Lulu's long relationship. In January 2000, according to Saldana, "Lenny left me at my mom's house [in Texas], and I never saw him since . . .

"I try to think of, God took [Alexia], and you're left here to be good and do what you have to do until it's your turn to go with her. That's what I'm trying to do."


Phoenix police detective Ira Williams read Rodney Aviles his rights against self-incrimination at a sheriff's substation in Gila Bend on the early afternoon of June 24, 1999.

Rodney readily agreed to talk, and offered his correct date of birth, height, weight and address.

In response to a question, he said he wasn't on any medication or illegal drugs. That should have prodded the detective into requesting a search warrant for a blood test, but it didn't.

Inexplicably, authorities never did test Rodney for drugs after the murders, which left unresolved the issue of whether he'd ingested cocaine after his release from the hospital.

Rodney spoke animatedly to the detective about his "evil" family, of which he included 7-year-old Alexia. His explanation for what was everything short of a full murder confession sounded chillingly sincere -- and insane.

"They were backstabbing me," he told Williams. "All these years since I've been young. Abusing me. That's why my mother . . .I think they're evil. They're evil. They'll all. They are evil to me."

"How can you say that a 7-year-old is evil?" Williams asked.

"Because my brother teaches her a lot of stuff to say that ain't true about me," Rodney replied. "This is my life, and we only live once, and I don't want to leave this world thinking that I've been used by people such as them."

Rodney claimed that his brother Lenny had been nasty to after his release from the hospital.

"I'm not gonna tolerate that," he said. "They get mad at me for no reason . . .Like, they've done so many things with those radios. Drugged me, made me go to sleep . . .Put a fake vein on [my penis]. I wanted to get that fixed, but there was no money."

Williams repeatedly tried to hone Rodney in on the murders. Finally, the suspect said his mother had been watching television in the living room.

"And I came up behind her. And that was it."

"Was she seated in a chair?" the detective asked.

"Yes, by the sofa."

"Where was Alexia?"

"By the side of my mom."

The detective asked Rodney to describe what had happened next.

Rodney paused, and asked for a glass of water. Williams left to fetch it.

"Are you supposed to be my lawyer?" Rodney asked when the detective soon returned. "Or you're a cop?"

"I'm Detective Williams from Phoenix Police Department." The officer repeated.

Rodney then said something that sounded quite sane under the circumstances.

"I better not talk anymore about this situation until I speak with a lawyer," he told Williams. "Is that fine with you, sir?"

That ended the police interview after 20 minutes, leaving several critical questions hanging: Had Rodney waited until Lenny and Lulu left for the store to kill his mother? If so, had he been surprised by Alexia's presence and felt that he had to kill her, too?

More than three years later, court-appointed psychiatrist Jack Potts seemed to answer yes to those questions after interviewing Rodney.

Potts wrote in a September 2002 report, "Mr. Aviles knew the wrongfulness of his behavior in murdering his mother. I cannot come to the same conclusion with a reasonable degree of medical certainty about the murder of his niece."


Recently, Rodney Aviles' sister, Anita Watson, was in court listening to lawyers hash over the next step in determining Rodney's possible "restorability" to competency.

She and her sister Carmen rarely miss a hearing, and visit Rodney regularly at the jail. But they never talk about the tragedy with their little brother, nor will they.

Lenny Aviles has been to court a few times, but hasn't spoken to Rodney since the murders.

Rodney sat politely in a jury box, shackled to another prisoner also in jailhouse black-and-white pinstripes. As is often the case in such settings, it's difficult to reconcile the image of this passive-appearing little man with what he did five years ago.

But whatever finally happens in Rodney's criminal case and in the rest of their civil case, Anita and her family forever will be asking themselves and their God: Why?!

E-mail paul.rubin@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8433.

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