ORLANDO, Fla. - A second suspect accused in the murders of two Winter Park High School students was expected to take a plea deal on Friday, but that didn't happen.
Hector Rodriguez, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 16-year-old Nicholas Presha and 18-year-old Jeremy Stewart along the Cady Way Trail in April 2012.
The families of Presha and Stewart, best friends at Winter Park High
School, packed courtroom 18B Friday to get justice.
But when Rodriguez argued with his lawyers in court and refused to sign the plea deal, which would have had him plead guilty to second-degree murder with a sentence of 25-30 years, they started to realize the plea and sentencing they were expecting was not going to happen, according to Channel 9's Kathi Belich.
Instead, he pleaded not guilty and will go to trial on Monday.
Authorities said Jesse Davis and Rodriguez were behind the killings, but Davis claims Rodriguez had no role in the teenagers' deaths. Davis already pleaded guilty to his role in the murders and was given two life sentences.
In court on Friday, Rodriguez appeared to be arguing with one if his attorneys, saying, "I didn't kill these boys. I'm innocent of all these things," according to Belich.
Not only did Rodriguez back out of his guilty plea, he also tried to fire his court-appointed attorneys. He also spoke English with his lawyers but demanded the help of an interpreter.
The judge, however, found his reasons legally insufficient, and he was told he could represent himself or pay for his own attorneys.
Rodriguez opted to keep his publicly paid attorneys.
Investigators said Presha and Stewart tried to sell stolen guns to Davis and Rodriguez, but Davis, 31, tied them up, took them to the Cady Way Trail and shot them execution-style before setting their bodies ablaze.
Rodriguez has a lengthy criminal past and has been booked into the Orange County jail 19 times since 2006 on charges ranging from battery to theft to drugs.
In 2010 he was spotted during a drug arrest at Sun Bay Apartments on Aloma Avenue, the same apartments where investigators said they found evidence linked to the slayings of Presha and Stewart.
In an interview with detectives following his sentencing, Davis denied that Rodriguez was with him, helped him or even knew anything about Davis' plan to steal the teenagers' stolen guns and then kill them.
In the audio recording, Davis, 31, told detectives that he fired his gun and ordered the teenagers to strip down when they got to his house.
"Get on the ground and get naked," Davis said. "I wanted to make sure they didn't have any more weapons on them."
Davis said he then used duct tape to tie up the teens.
"I put cloths over their face," he said. "One of their T-shirts. I think I ripped it up."
Davis then told detectives he took the two teens, naked, bound and blindfolded, to a gas station so he could buy gas because he knew he was going to set them on fire.
"I knew I was going to kill them," said Davis.
"What would the burning do?" one detective asked.
"I'll try to burn away the evidence."
Davis claimed that only Presha spoke in the car at that point, but he said the teen wanted his gun back. Davis said neither of the victims begged for mercy, because Davis said he told them he was just going to drop them off somewhere.
"I just shot one of them in the head, and then I shot the other one in the head," said Davis. "I went and got the gas from the trunk, and I set them on fire."
Autopsy reports show Presha was shot three times in the head before his body was set on fire. He was found with partially burned underwear around his head, and also tested positive for the drug benzodiazepine, a type of tranquilizer.
Stewart suffered blunt-force trauma and was shot in the back of the head, according to the autopsy report. He also had a blood-soaked cloth wrapped around his head.
Authorities said Davis set up the meeting with detectives in the hopes that he could be sent to a central Florida prison so his mother could visit.
Davis blamed his girlfriend for helping him initially tie up Presha and Stewart.
"This was a two-man operation. This is not a Jesse Davis operation," a detective is heard saying in the interview.
Davis said Rodriguez didn't know he intended to kill the teens, and he stuck to that story.
But there was a moment in the interview where he nearly slipped up.
While talking about taking the bound teens to the gas station, he first said Rodriguez went inside the Citgo, even though investigators have Davis on video inside. He then claimed Rodriguez tried to stop him, then reversed and said the opposite.
"Was he in the car, watching the kids, while you were in the Citgo?" a detective asked Davis.
"I guess so," said Davis.
"How does he try to stop you?" the detective asks.
"He didn't try to stop me," said Davis.
Detectives also tried to get Davis to admit that Rodriguez must have been on the trail when the teens were shot to death and their bodies burned or they would have tried to run.
"They're standing there naked with their hands bound, and something covering their face, and whatever T-shirt you've got covering is duct taped to their head, and they're not running?" the detective asks.
"No," said Davis.