BAKERSFIELD, CALIF - The coroner's office says 15-year-old Stacy Duke was strangled by someone's bare hands. Law enforcement and the district attorney's office believe that someone is 23-year-old Gerardo Rodriguez.
The news of her cause of death came as a shock to the friends and family of the suspect, who initially thought the girl most likely died from an accidental overdose.
Lydia Ramirez, A family friend of suspect, 23-year-old Gerardo Rodriguez, abruptly ended our interview after learning teenager Stacy Duke was violently killed. But before hearing the news, she opened up about the night the girl was found dead.
"I really didn't know her, nobody did...we thought we did. She didn't exist", said Lydia Ramirez.
It was early Monday evening when Lydia spotted the victim, who she described as an acquaintance.
"I was driving home and she just ran into the street to stop me and asked if I could help her and that her boyfriend was trying to kill her. I asked her where she wanted me to take her and she said she had nowhere to go", Lydia said.
That woman was really a child, 15-year-old Stacy Duke. But Lydia and others knew her by a different name and believed she was 22. Lydia brought her to a home on Dore Drive, where Lydia was staying with Gerardo Rodriguez and his family.
Lydia says Duke had been to the home with her before. When they got there Monday night, she says Rodriguez invited Duke to hang out with him in the garage.
Lydia had a difficult time describing what happened next: "I don't know what happened, I wasn't in there, I was outside, I wasn't in there...everyone said there were screams but I don't know." Lydia said neighbors supposedly heard a scream, but said no one at the house did.
Lydia said Rodriguez and Duke were in the garage together for less than ten minutes when he came out alone. I asked Lydia if Rodriguez screamed for someone to call 911. "He just said he loved me, and he went inside", Lydia replied.
Next, Lydia walked into the garage and found Duke. "I screamed and asked him what happened, he said he didn't know."
I asked Lydia what she made of Rodriguez saying he loved her after walking out of the garage. "He always tells me that", replied Lydia.
I asked: "But don't you think it's unusual he didn't scream 'someone call 911, something's wrong'...you wouldn't have known if you hadn't gone in the garage to see for yourself."
Lydia took a long pause before answering: "I don't know, when I asked him what happened he said she was standing up, she must have fell, I don't know. I don't know what it's like, I don't know what happened and I want to know. I need to talk to him."
Rodriguez's sister, Carol, said her brother is quiet and spends most of his time at home with their mother. She says Rodriguez has been in Special Ed classes all his life and was on medication, but sometimes doesn't take it and self medicates with marijuana instead. Carol said he has the mind of a child.
"He's my little brother, I have to, every time we talk to him or my mom wants to explain something we have to repeat it like three times so he can actually understand us. He acts like a little boy and it's just hard for me to comprehend everything that's happening", said Carol.
Carol and Lydia both said they can't imagine Rodriguez is capable of murder. They're still in shock over the teen's death, and the fact that she wasn't who they believed she was. Lydia said Stacy Duke is an orphan with no known family. However, the coroner's office reported notifying next of kin before releasing her name.
Rodriguez is due back in court next Thursday.
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