Long Beach Man, 82, Sentenced to Seven Years in 1987 Manslaughter Case; Killer Caught After 22 Years on the Lam


An 82-year-old man caught last year for a 1987 murder -- and the central character of a feature article this week in New Times -- was sentenced today to seven years in prison.

As detailed in the article, Richard Rodgers gunned down 23-year-old Terry Keenan in a parking lot for doing nothing more than taunting him.

Rodgers, then 59 and going by the name of Roger Cook, had been standing on a 2nd-floor balcony when he pulled the trigger of his .357 Magnum. The authorities never verified his identity, and a judge let him out of jail on a low bond a few weeks after his arrest.

Rodgers fled to California, retired from his job as a truck driver, and lived a quiet life until the U.S. Marshal's Service decided to look for him. It turned out he was pretty easy to find. But, of course, he's much older now.

Not that his age or health status matters one bit to Verda Kazman, the mother of Terry Keenan. 

When given a chance to address the court, Kazman -- who had flown to Phoenix from Michigan for the hearing -- placed a framed photo of her dead son on a table for Rodgers to see.

The old man stared at the picture, a serious and somewhat stunned look on his face. Kazman pulled out another picture: Keenan's younger brothers. Then a final picture -- the kids and grandchildren of her boys.

"This is the family that never got to meet (Terry)," she said, her hands shaking. "The family has not stopped grieving."

She asked for the maximum sentence of 10 years, as did the prosecutor, deputy county attorney Bernita Clark.

John Curry, Rodgers' attorney, argued that Rodgers should get probation, noting that he's already served the last 14 months in jail.

The decision was a tough one for Maricopa Superior Court Judge Joseph Kreamer.

Before him was an octogenarian in a wheelchair, with many diagnosed medical ailments, facing punishment for a cold-blooded murder he'd committed long ago. To compound the problem for Kreamer, Rodgers now claims he has no memory of the crime.

But if the old guy off easy, that would be like "rewarding" him for fleeing before his trial 23 years ago, the judge mused while debating with Rodgers' defense attorney. "He'd get credit for walking out the door ... That doesn't strike me as right."

Kreamer and Curry engaged in a somewhat philosophical debate on the issue for about 15 minutes. To the amusement of several other inmates in the courtroom, the judge and lawyer chatted about the meaning of incarceration, the nature of justice and how no one could know what sentence might have been meted out in 1987. Curry noted that it would be expensive to taxpayers to keep Rodgers in prison. 

Kreamer said he would take no pleasure in handing out a sentence that likely meant the 82-year-old would die behind bars. But he couldn't discount the fact that Rodgers had blown off his responsibility to society and fled the system for two decades.

The judge asked Rodgers if he had anything to say.

"No, I don't think so," Rodgers said. "Except one thing: My memory doesn't go back that far... I don't have memory of (the crime) at all."

Kreamer then sentenced Rodgers to seven years in prison, minus the 14 months he's already spent in jail. Rodgers was also ordered to pay $9,430 in restitution to Keenan's surviving brother to reimburse funeral expenses, and to pay the cost of Kazman's flights to Phoenix.

Connie Watkins, one of Rodgers' daughters, was in the courtroom with a young woman, but didn't want to comment for this article.

Kazman went back to her hotel on Central Avenue, where she planned to stay until flying home to Michigan on Friday. We spent a few minutes with her to talk and give back some pictures New Times had borrowed for the article.

"It's been a rough road," she says.

She still has many questions about the case that plague her. She can't stop dwelling about them.