MALDEN, Mass. (TCD) -- A 32-year-old cold case came to a close this week after a man was convicted of killing a 17-year-old girl and leaving her body on a fire escape in 1991.
In a joint statement, the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office and Malden Police Department announced a jury found Rodney Daniels guilty of first-degree murder for shooting death of Patricia "Tricia" Moreno over 30 years ago.
On July 20, 1991, at around 3 a.m., Malden Police responded to an apartment at 21 Henry St. and found Moreno suffering from a single gunshot wound to the head. She had been living at the apartment with her foster mom, the mom's two teen daughters, and the older daughter's boyfriend, Daniels. Moreno was still alive when police arrived, but when she was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital, doctors "determined that she had suffered an irreversible brain injury."
She died later that day. The autopsy revealed she was shot with a .38 caliber weapon, though police did not find any cartridges or evidence of forced entry at the scene.
When Daniels spoke with police, he reportedly said she was sleeping in an armchair when he heard the gunshots go off. When he walked out to the fire escape, he saw Moreno injured.
According to the statement, Daniels owned several guns around the time Moreno was killed, including a .38 caliber revolver. Prior to Moreno's death, Daniels "had engaged in threatening behavior towards Tricia."
The investigation into Moreno's death went cold because police could not obtain enough evidence to make an arrest.
The Middlesex County District Attorney's Office's Cold Cause Unit reopened the case in 2020. In doing so, investigators analyzed the area where Moreno was shot, and according to the statement, "Based on the position of the entry wound and the trajectory of the bullet, they determined that the path of the bullet was consistent with having been fired by an individual standing in the area of the doorway to the apartment where Tricia had resided with her foster family."
A witness who lived one floor below Moreno and her family told investigators he heard a "loud noise" on the night of the killing and saw Moreno "struggling to breathe with a male standing over her."
The witness saw the man go back inside the apartment. The witnesses' description of the male matched Daniels' appearance.
According to the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, detectives learned a witness protected Daniels after he told her he killed Moreno, hid the gun in an armchair, and disposed of the weapon.
The witness reportedly "had admitted that she lied to police investigators and an investigating grand jury in 1991 in order to protect Daniels. She had said that, even many years later, she was afraid to disclose what she knew because she feared that admitting her complicity in the cover-up would expose her to prosecution."
That witness is now deceased.
Police in Fulton, Georgia, arrested Daniels at his home Sept. 27, 2021, and he was later extradited to Massachusetts.