RACINE - Jaime Rojas told police his wife, Ebodia, killed herself. He said she came out of the bedroom with a 9 mm pistol and shot herself in the head.
He called 911 from his cell phone and performed CPR. EMTs and paramedics took his wife to the hospital. One of the couple's three children told police that "Daddy killed Mommy."
That statement and evidence at the scene offered a different picture: Rojas had the gun, put it to his wife's head and fired.
Police arrested Rojas. He wasn't able to go to the hospital, where his wife died. He didn't get to go to her funeral. He lost custody of his three sons, one only 6 months old.
Rojas said his wife suffered from depression. A woman who helped raise her had just died and she could not go back to Mexico for the funeral. She was an illegal alien and worried she would not be able to get back into the United States. Rojas is an American citizen, as are his three children.
"Why would they accuse me and say that happened?" Rojas said. "It was the nightmare of my life. I couldn't sleep. In two weeks I lost 30-something pounds. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't believe in trying to help her they would get me like that."
Missing bullet From April 22, 2005, until Aug. 24, 2006, Rojas was in the Racine County Jail. He was released on electronic monitoring this summer. Since his wife's death, Rojas has repeatedly said he did not kill her, and that the police had details wrong.
The police focused on a bullet hole in the floor, but Rojas said the bullet went into the ceiling. Police never found a bullet in the basement or anywhere else. In October, a few weeks after he retained Mark Richards as his attorney, Rojas convinced him to go to the house and look in the ceiling.
The hole had been patched over, Richards said, but they could tell where it was. They pulled down the attic steps and he and an investigator went up to see what they could find. The attic floor was covered with cellulose insulation.
"We go up there and (it was like) looking for a needle in a haystack," Richards said. "(The investigator) said we're never gonna find this."
They measured things out anyway, trying to locate the spot in the attic floor that matched the hole in the ceiling. There, they found two boards over the hole, covering the insulation.
"He pulls away the cellulose and found the bullet," Richards said.
The police collected the bullet. Testing showed it was fired from the gun recovered the day Ebodia Rojas died. The bullet had her DNA on it. Her DNA was also found on the ceiling, near the plaster patch.
"For Jaime's sake I wanted to find a bullet," Richards said. "For the city I grew up in I'd rather not find the bullet. I'm not going to complain. Nothing happens. Nothing changes. I'm convinced, if I hadn't gone up there, he'd be in prison."
Placing blame Richards and his partner, Christie Hall, got to work on getting the charges dismissed. Ultimately, Richards places blame on the police, not prosecutors, for his client's 16 months in jail.
"I've got no complaints, no beefs with the way (Assistant District Attorney) Randy Schneider handled the case," Richards said. "Where I have the real problem is with the Racine Police Department. There's a question of if it's a homicide or suicide. Immediately, police decided it was a homicide."
Deputy District Attorney Rich Chiapete said the police are not at fault. The motion to dismiss charges is a result of new information and not negligence by police.
"It's always an ongoing investigation," he said. "Based on new information we couldn't meet the burden of proof. From our standpoint, our duty is to search for truth and justice."
With the bullet in the attic and expert analysis of blood spatter, prosecutors could no longer rule out suicide.
"We think the police did a thorough job," Chiapete said.
He could not say whether the case would have been different had the bullet in the attic been found immediately.
"We wouldn't be able to project back," he said. "We reacted to it once the information came to light."
Racine Police Lt. Ray Knapp refused to comment on the story.
The dismissal doesn't necessarily mean Rojas is completely in the clear, Chiapete said. There is still evidence that points to Rojas as the shooter, especially his son's statement to police. In subsequent interviews, the boy never repeated the statement that his father was responsible for his mother's death.
Rojas is no longer in jail, but remains under electronic monitoring. The homicide charge has been dismissed, but he still faces drug charges for the cocaine and marijuana police found in his home when they searched it following his wife's death. He is looking for a job and does not plan to stay here.
"After everything is done, I'll go to Mexico and do business down there," he said.