Psychologist: Rodgers could ‘do well’
HOLLIDAYSBURG — A psychologist who is an expert in the effects of childhood trauma testified Wednesday that with a good re-entry plan and supervision, he believes James Franklin Rodgers, sentenced 29 years ago to life without parole, “has the ability to do well” if he is released from prison.
The testimony came during a resentencing hearing for Rodgers, 49, who was convicted in 1990 for the 1988 stabbing death of 72-year-old Pasquale J. Lascoli.
Rodgers was 17 years old when he entered the Lascoli home on the 2100 block of Sixth Avenue and in what police contended was a robbery, stabbed the elderly man 80 times.
According to retired Altoona detectives Roger White and Mitchell F. Cooper, the crime was among the worst they have seen, and both told Senior Judge Daniel Howsare of Bedford County they believe that Rodgers should be resentenced to life without parole.
Rodgers’ defense team, led by Assistant Federal Public Defender Kirk J. Henderson and Pittsburgh attorney Michael J. Berrigan, are seeking a minimum sentence of 25 years, which would allow Rodgers to seek parole.
Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio and Assistant District Attorney Nichole Smith are opposing Rodgers’ release, contending he is “incorrigible” and that he would be a danger to society.
The prosecution, through the detectives, presented Rodgers’ record as a juvenile — he committed 13 offenses including a string of burglaries and robberies and was declared a delinquent by the Blair County Juvenile Court by age 16.
The late Judge Thomas G. Peoples ordered Rodgers sent to a juvenile facility in Indiana County, but the judge eventually relented, and Rodgers was placed in the custody of his mother and on an “intensive probation” program.
When he violated his probation by committing another strong-arm robbery, he was sent away.
Within nine weeks after his release from that institution, he murdered Lascoli.
He was arrested in the summer of 1988, and a jury found him guilty in 1990 of first-degree murder, robbery and aggravated assault but decided not to impose the death penalty. He was sentenced to life without parole.
In 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama declared automatic life without parole to be cruel and unusual punishment for juvenile killers, although it can still be imposed in the rarest of cases.
Since the Miller ruling Pennsylvania’s appeals courts have placed the onus on the prosecution to prove the “impossibility of rehabilitation” or “permanent incorrigibility” before a life-without-parole sentence can be imposed on a juvenile killer.
This led to Wednesday’s emotional hearing in which psychologist James Garbarino testified that Rodgers is a good candidate for parole. He stated Rodgers’ early life was worse than 999 out of 1,000 people living in America.
Garbarino has studied the effects of childhood trauma worldwide.
He stated Rodgers experienced a variety of “adverse childhood experiences” that included a disfunctional family, an alcoholic mother who paid little attention to him and racial prejudice from a brother and sister.
Rodgers’ father was African-American and his mother Caucasian.
His siblings and mother used the “N-word” in referring to him, Garbarino stated.
He was physically abuse by an aunt, who beat him severely, and he was repeatedly sexually abused by a 26-year-old female friend of his mothers beginning at age 10, the defense expert stated.
His mother in her daily life was not a good role model, and Rodgers, whose father was deceased, had no male role models in his life.
The defense presentence memorandum stated, “Not surprisingly, the young Frankie Rodgers was living the kind of life that put him in situations where legal trouble was the natural and probable outcome, which is predictable given his childhood experiences.”
The prosecution is attempting to show that despite Garbarino’s opinion, Rodgers has continued his criminal tendencies in prison.
In his early years behind bars at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset, he got into fights, carried prison-made knives and violated prison rules by operating a gambling organization, a wine-making business and smuggling marijuana into the institution.
In a heated exchange, Consiglio called Garbarino an “advocate” for juveniles who commit murder.
He wanted to know why Garabarino discussed none of the negatives of Rodgers’ prison life?
“It’s that you are an advocate,” Consiglio stated.
The DA continued, “Why is there no comment on the victims of these crimes? Why is there no comment on the impact (of the killing) on the community? Why didn’t you comment on the sophistication of this crime?”
Garbarino admitted the crime was “horrible” and stated it was “terribly significant for the family, the courts and the family,” but he said Rodgers’ crime as a teenager cannot be used to predict future criminality after 31 years behind bars.
He said he didn’t discuss other aspects of the murder “out of some lack of compassion” but said his mission was to examine Rodgers’ maturity and determine if he could be rehabilitated.
Howsare is reconvening the hearing at 8:30 a.m. today and will hear testimony from nine members of the Lascoli family.
The defense intends to present two additional expert witnesses.
Lascoli’s children, nieces, nephews and other family members and friends sat quietly Wednesday during disturbing testimony as what occurred during the robbery.
White, now police chief of Blair Township, remembered his thoughts when he entered the Lascoli home and saw the body.
The victim was lying face down, his arms extended over his head as if he was attempting to flee his attacker.
There were many knife wounds on the victim’s face, his torso and his back, White said.
The scene, he said, “was very gruesome, very grizzly, one of those scenes when you see it, it takes your breath away. It gives you pause.”
As he testified several members of the Lascoli family shed tears.