Woman accused in Lakeside arson case pleads not guilty

Rodriguez accused of setting fire to home

EL CAJON, Calif. - A woman accused of trying to kill her 74-year-old mother by pushing her back into their burning Lakeside home after setting fire to the residence on New Year's Day pleaded not guilty Friday to attempted murder, arson, elder abuse, dissuading a witness and other charges.

Neomi Lynn Rodriguez, 41, was ordered held on $1.5 million bail over the objection of prosecutor C.J. Mody, who urged that no bail be set.

"She is pleading not guilty, denying any and all allegations," said Rodriguez's lawyer, Ann Sommers.

Mody said the defendant, who faces 12 1/2 years in prison if convicted, was arrested two days prior to the Jan. 1 fire after she called the Sheriff's Department to say she was having hallucinations from being under the influence of methamphetamine. Rodriguez was released from custody 10 to 12 hours later, and authorities were again called to the home about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

"This is obviously a sad and tragic case where a 74-year-old mother lost her house -- her house was burned down -- she could have been seriously hurt or injured, and we felt that no bail was appropriate in this case," Mody told reporters.

Mody said the victim -- identified as Kazuko Martinez -- was in bed Tuesday afternoon when she got up and noticed her daughter's bedroom was on fire.

As the mother tried to leave, her daughter grabbed her and tried to push her into the burning bedroom, but she was able to resist and proceeded toward the front door, the prosecutor said.

"She tried to exit down the hallway, at which point in time (the mother) was grabbed by the defendant," said Mody. "The defendant tried to push the mother -- the mother is 74 years old -- into the burning bedroom."

Mody alleged that the defendant tackled her mother and said, "You're not getting out of here."

Rodriguez used a tablecloth to try to bind her mother to a dining room table, but the older woman was able to break free, the prosecutor alleged. Rodriguez also ripped the phone out of her mother's hand when she tried to call 911, according to Mody, who said neighbors heard the victim's screams and were able to get her away from the burning house.

The defendant tried to stop the neighbors from using garden hoses to put out the fire, the prosecutor alleged.

Both mother and daughter were treated for smoke inhalation.

Judge Charles Ervin said Rodriguez was on misdemeanor probation and had previously failed to appear in court on six occasions.

Rodriguez faces misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and being under the influence of a controlled substance stemming from the Dec. 30 incident. She will be back in court Jan. 10 for a readiness conference and Jan. 17 for a preliminary hearing.

10News found court records of a domestic violence case filed in August by Rodriguez's mother against her daughter.

A restraining order details years of family troubles. Martinez wrote, "She is being verbally abusive to me which is caused by her over-taking prescription drugs. She is starting to hear things and see things. She mentioned seeing a snake coming in the house, and that the snake is all over her body and in her hair."

Then, it escalated. Martinez wrote, "She approached me, inches from my face, screaming at me. Today, she had a hammer in her hand."

Two weeks later, Martinez asked to withdraw the restraining order because the family was seeking therapy.

Amy McFadden, another neighbor, told 10News that Rodriguez has shown bizarre behavior before. McFadden shares a backyard fence with the mother and daughter and that the daughter slipped into the home unannounced on New Year's Eve.


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