Orlando shooting suspect mentally ill, lawyer says

By Antonio Gonzalez and Mike Schneider
Sunday, November 8, 2009

The engineer accused of fatally shooting one employee and wounding five others at the Orlando firm where he once worked is "very mentally ill" and crumbled under the stress of his divorce, bankruptcy and unemployment, his lawyer said Saturday.

Jason Rodriguez, 40, was ordered held without bail at the Orange County Jail, where he is under suicide watch after Friday's shooting. His mother, Ana Rodriguez, apologized Saturday, telling reporters she is "so sorry for everything that has happened. Sorry for the families involved. I'm really very sorry, it is very hurtful."

Public defender Bob Wesley asked the judge at a brief court appearance Saturday that police and prosecutors have no contact with Rodriguez without Wesley's permission.

Wesley told reporters that Rodriguez "is a very, very mentally ill person" who lost his emotional stability because of deep financial problems.

"This guy is a compilation of the front page of the entire year -- unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce -- all of the stresses," Wesley said. "He has been declining in mental health. There is no logic whatsoever, which points to a mental health case. It looks like a classic case of stress overload."

Employees at Reynolds, Smith and Hills recognized their former co-worker when he drew a handgun from a holster under his shirt, police said, and killed Otis Beckford, 26, next to a receptionist's desk at a downtown Orlando office tower. He then walked into the office and unloaded several more rounds, wounding five other employees at the company he had been fired from two years ago.

The five other victims all are expected to survive.

Rodriguez was taken into custody several hours after the shooting. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

Police said Rodriguez told detectives he blamed the firm for recent trouble he had receiving unemployment benefits. Rodriguez recently told a bankruptcy judge he was making less than $30,000 a year at a Subway sandwich shop and had debts of nearly $90,000. He is the divorced father of a young son.

All the victims worked at Reynolds, Smith and Hills, where Rodriguez was an entry-level engineer for 11 months before he was fired in June 2007, the company said.

Courtney Moore, who works as a paralegal, said she shared elevators frequently with Beckford and always saw him in the building's cafeteria, and recalled an elevator ride they shared about a month ago when she had had a bad day.

"I was so rude to him. I feel so bad now," Moore said. "I can't remember exactly what I told him, but it wasn't nice. He was always so polite and friendly. I told him I was sorry. Then he said, 'It's okay. Have a great day.' "

Hours after the shootings, police tracked Rodriguez to his mother's home and ordered him to come out. He surrendered peacefully, apologizing as officers handcuffed him, police said.

"I'm just going through a tough time right now. I'm sorry," officers quoted him as saying.

-- Associated Press

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