Man goes on trial in D.C. in 2008 stabbing death of girlfriend

Tiffany Gates accepted more than 400 collect calls from her ex-boyfriend over three months while he was in jail.

Jurors heard some of those calls Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court, where Roderick Ridley is charged with Gates’s murder: “I hate you,” says Gates, his voice resonating from the courtroom speakers in a recording played by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright. “I hope you die. I’m going to have to come out of here sometime. . . . I hate the ground you walk on. You have an enemy for life.”

On Nov. 21, 2008, authorities say, Ridley escaped from his minimum-security halfway house, broke into Gates’s Southeast Washington apartment, and stabbed her in her face, neck and chest.

One cut severed her carotid artery, authorities said; another collapsed her lung. As Gates screamed and tried to fight back, a federal marshal she had called for help waited for backup outside her apartment building.

Ridley is charged with 40 counts, including first-degree premeditated murder and burglary in connection with Gates’s slaying. His trial began Tuesday.

In his opening statement, Gates’s attorney Cary Clennon said that no DNA evidence links his client to Gates’s killing. A third person’s DNA was found on Gates’s bloody clothes at the time of her killing, he said. “They assumed the boyfriend did it,” Clennon said. “When they jump to conclusions, they don’t need DNA.”

Ridley, 34, sometimes smiled and laughed with marshals sitting beside him in Judge Gerald I. Fisher’s courtroom. He showed no emotion as the recordings played, his eyes closing slightly at times.

Gates’s killing ended a violent relationship with Ridley, said prosecutors who called the 33-year-old foster mother “the perfect victim.” Ridley manipulated and controlled Gates, who prosecutors said was plagued with depression, low self-esteem and bipolar disorder — a woman who “only wanted to be loved,” Wright said.

Gates and Ridley started dating in the summer 0f 2007, according to court records, but the relationship deteriorated. Gates sought a protective order against Ridley, who allegedly threatened her life. Nearly a year later, Gates accused Ridley of kicking, punching and striking her in the head with a knife in an August dispute.

A day later, as Gates returned with a police escort to retrieve her belongings from the apartment they had shared, Ridley allegedly set the couch on fire. He pleaded guilty to attempted arson and was ordered to D.C. jail before being released to the halfway house. A judge ordered Ridley to stay away from Gates.

They reached out to each other nonetheless. She visited him in jail. She put money into his jail account. She accepted his calls. And she petitioned the court to have him released to a halfway house, Clennon said.

When Ridley escaped Oct. 29, a federal marshal gave Gates his card and told her to call if she ever saw him. On the morning of Nov. 20, Gates was on the phone with her mother when she looked out a window and saw Ridley stuffing rags into her Volvo’s tailpipe. Gates’s mother urged her to call police and the marshal.

Ridley was gone when police arrived, Wright said, and because they did not see any injuries on Gates, they decided not to make a report that could have led officers to search for him. “It was a mistake not to take a report,” Wright told the jury.

The next day, about 12:15 a.m, Gates called 911 to report seeing Ridley near her apartment. Wright said Gates called the marshal, who lived an hour away, in a panic, telling him, “He’s kicking down my door.”

The marshal had to wait for police backup before entering. Police found Gates’s bloody body in the hallway outside a neighbor’s door.

The 6-foot-4 Ridley was found covered in blood hiding in a cabinet beneath a sink in a vacant downstairs apartment. Wright said it was Gates’s blood. Clennon said the blood was Ridley’s, from self-inflicted stab wounds.

Clennon argued that Gates manipulated Ridley, often engaging him in “mind games” — such as telling him during jail calls that she asked prosecutors in the arson case to lock him up for five years when she had really asked authorities to have him released to the halfway house so he could work.

“They want you to feel sorry for her,” Clennon said. “They were abusive to each other. She controlled him, and he controlled her.”

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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