An elderly man extradited to Maricopa County in November on a 1987 homicide charge is apparently being held under the wrong name.
Confusion in the case, however, didn't help the white-haired, wheelchair-bound guy get out of jail during a court hearing on Monday.
As we reported previously, Phoenix police and the U.S. Marshal's Office teamed up this year to track down a man named Roger Cook, who allegedly skipped town after shooting 22-year-old Terrance Keenan in 1987. Keenan, who was unarmed, was visiting Cook's apartment complex with a friend. Cook reportedly took a shot at the friend and missed. Cops took Cook to jail, but a judge released him three days later. A warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to show up to court hearings.
In August, authorities including Detective Mark Armistead of Phoenix PD's cold-case squad found him at an assisted-living apartment complex for senior citizens in Long Beach. He'd been living under the name Richard Earl Rodgers.
In fact, the 82-year-old's real name is Richard Earl Rodgers: "That's the name I was born with," Rodgers told the court during his hearing. His children and his lawyer, Maricopa Legal Defender John Curry, confirmed the name. (Initially, court records also listed the wrong age for Rodgers).
"We're not sure why the state thinks he's Roger Cook," Curry told Superior Court Commissioner James Rummage on Monday. Curry, who represented Roger Cook in the case for a short time in 1987, added that he didn't recognize the man.
Rummage told Curry he'll precede with the case and that "hopefully" he'll get the name situation sorted out.
Whatever his name is, authorities obviously don't want to take the chance of losing him again. Cook/Rodgers is being held on a $1 million bond in the county jail's medical ward.
Indeed, this seems to be more a case of mistaken name then mistaken identity. A Phoenix police news release says Cook admitted before his August arrest that he was the guy in the booking mug shot from 1987. And the man's son, Tom Rodgers of Columbus, Georgia, tells New Times that his father reportedly admitted to shooting someone.
"He had talked to my sister about a month before [his arrest]," Rodgers says when reached by phone. "It was self defense... He said he shot a guy who broke into his apartment, and they released him."
One of Richard Rodgers' three daughters, Connie Watkins, was in court on Monday -- she tells New Times her father never said anything to her about shooting anyone. In fact, she may be able to prove her father -- who may have dementia -- wasn't even in Arizona in 1987, she says.
Both siblings tell New Times they were estranged from their father, who originally hails from Georgia, for most of their adult lives. Tom Rodgers says he began talking to Richard regularly by phone in 1999. When Rodgers was arrested in August, his son thought he might have been kidnapped and posted a missing-persons bulletin on his Web site.
We haven't seen the 1987 police report yet. Clark, a deputy county attorney, told the court the case will "probably" be deemed complex, meaning it will take extra time to prepare. But "at least two of the witnesses are still available," she said.
Rummage set a tentative trial date of March 31.
We'll get back to you on this one as we learn more.