Police detain Jose DeJesus Rodriguez outside a home on 26th Avenue on Oct. 24. (Courtesy Joel Engardio)

SFSU student allegedly shot and killed by abuser near Lowell High School

Defense calls shooting a ‘tragic accident’ between childhood friends

In the months before she was fatally shot at a house near Lowell High School, 21-year-old Valeria Villagomez had become the victim of an abusive relationship, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The college student had just started dating 20-year-old Jose DeJesus Rodriguez this summer when he allegedly began choking her, calling her a “whore” and demanding she delete her social media account.

Then last Thursday afternoon, officers responding to a 911 call at a house near 26th Avenue and Eucalyptus Drive spotted Rodriguez walking outside shirtless and with blood on his hands.

Villagomez, a student at San Francisco State University, had been shot in the head with a revolver.

These are the details of the case alleged in a motion from prosecutors seeking to hold Rodriguez in jail without bail.

The District Attorney’s Office filed the motion Tuesday ahead of his first court appearance at the Hall of Justice.

Inside the courtroom, Rodriguez stood before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harry Dorfman wearing a County Jail jumpsuit with a chain around his waist.

“The public safety threat here is paramount,” Dorfman said, before ordering that Rodriguez remain in jail until the bail motion is heard next week. “The facts alleged appear to be weighty in favor of the accusation.”

Suzy Loftus, the newly appointed interim district attorney, was sitting in the front row of the courtroom gallery alongside Kathy Black, the executive director of La Casa de las Madres, a shelter for battered women.

“The most dangerous place for a woman is in her home,” Loftus said outside the courtroom.

“When we see this type of horrific crime,” she said, “it’s important to remember that if anyone in San Francisco knows anyone who they think might be a victim of domestic violence, certainly to report it to the police.”

Kathy Black, right, executive director of La Casa de las Madres, speaks with reporters alongside interim District Attorney Suzy Loftus following a pre-trial hearing for Jose Rodriguez, who is accused of killing Valeria Villagomez, 21, at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The killing marked the 32nd reported homicide in San Francisco so far this year and the second killing of 2019 that appeared to be related to domestic violence.

But Black said the problem of domestic violence is much broader than homicides.

“When we only focus on the homicides, we are not looking at the thousands of victims who suffer less-than-lethal acts of domestic violence every single day,” Black said. “We have to really be focused on the big, total picture.”

Her organization responded to 8,914 calls from domestic violence victims and their allies in one recent year, and made 1,177 calls to survivors after police responded to their abuse, according to its 2017-18 annual report.

Rodriguez is facing three felony counts including murder and a domestic violence-related charge. He has not yet entered a plea, but his attorney called the shooting an accident.

“Preliminary information suggests that this was a tragic accident that resulted in the death of someone Jose loves dearly and has been close to since childhood,” said Brian Pearlman, a deputy public defender.

“We look forward to seeing all the materials the government has as soon as possible so both families can get the answers they deserve,” Pearlman said in a statement.

In the bail motion, Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart said Rodriguez has no ties to San Francisco and is from Southern California, where he has been arrested twice before. One of the arrests was gang-related, he said.

Swart said Rodriguez attempted suicide while in police custody at the Hall of Justice before allegedly attempting to take a gun from an officer at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Rodriguez is said to be medicated for bipolar disorder and had previously threatened to kill Villagomez and himself before, according to Swart.

After the shooting, Rodriguez was allegedly the person who called 911 to report that Villagomez was shot. Swart said police found Villagomez “lying on the floor in a pool of blood” and a revolver on the bed.

Swart said Villagomez had told a friend she was contemplating breaking up with Rodriguez. But there was no evidence that the alleged domestic violence had been reported to police before.

In a message to the campus community, SFSU President Lynn Mahoney mourned the loss of Villagomez without mentioning her by name.

“The tragic and untimely death of a student takes a particularly deep emotional toll,” Mahoney said last Friday. “I want to extend my deepest sympathies to the student’s family and friends.”

Students can access university counseling services at (415) 338-2208.

Rodriguez is scheduled to appear in court again next Tuesday at 9 a.m for arraignment and the bail motion.

La Casa de las Madres has a 24/7 domestic violence crisis line that can be reached at (877) 503-1850.

Jose DeJesus Rodriguez (Courtesy SFPD)

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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