Sabrina Rodriguez left Sacramento Superior Court on Friday morning trailed by television cameras, the same devices that once defined her life and career and made her arrest last year on shoplifting charges a local sensation.
After pleading no contest to a single misdemeanor theft charge and agreeing to pay $2,480 in restitution, the former Fox40 anchor is expected to spend 30 days wearing a monitoring device on her ankle and then try to rebuild her life.
“I just really want to move on with my life, I really do,” Rodriguez, 31, said in an interview Thursday afternoon with The Sacramento Bee before she accepted the plea deal her attorney had been working on for months. “And waiting for a trial or anything like that, it would just drag it out even more. I really want this behind me.”
The three felony counts she originally faced weren’t the only thing she left behind Friday. Minutes after Rodriguez left the fifth-floor courtroom of Judge Gerrit W. Wood, her former boyfriend was ushered in wearing jail garb and waist chains.
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Nick Gray, 31, the former prison inmate Rodriguez met through an online dating service, didn’t have a plea deal in his back pocket.
Instead, he faced a preliminary hearing Friday into charges of burglary and conspiracy, drug possession and manufacture, and of sparking a blaze in the couple’s south Sacramento home that prosecutors said erupted from failed efforts to manufacture hash oil out of marijuana.
Gray, who has pleaded not guilty and has declined interview requests, sat quietly in court Friday listening as a prosecutor played an audiotape that he said was of Gray boasting of shoplifting as much as $200,000 in merchandise in a two-month span and plotting drug ripoffs. By day’s end, he was ordered to stand trial starting March 18 on the charges.
The contrast in the defendants could not have been more striking.
Gray has been held without bail since his arrest last summer and missed two court appearances while under observation in the jail’s psychiatric unit.
Rodriguez has been out on $10,000 bail since the charges were filed and is not expected to spend time in jail, her attorney, Mark Reichel, said. She has spent the past months seeing friends, enrolling in a community college marketing class and running along the American River Parkway.
She spent Friday conducting interviews with local media – her former colleagues and competitors – arranged by Sacramento public relations executive Doug Elmets, who is volunteering his time for her.
Authorities originally alleged that Rodriguez and Gray engaged in a shoplifting scheme together, and that she had pinpointed expensive wallets at a Coach store in the Folsom Outlets that he later swept into a bag he was carrying.
Rodriguez has maintained her innocence, and in her interview with The Bee said she had stolen nothing. Instead, she said she knew Gray had shoplifted in the past but that she knew nothing about his alleged shoplifting of 10 wallets at the Coach store in March 2013.
A store security tape played in court Friday for Gray’s hearing shows her standing near a display of wallets with a man authorities say is Gray, but she denies she was helping him pinpoint which ones to steal.
“I wasn’t signaling him that this is what you should steal,” she said. “But, like I said, I’ve known of his behavior, and I’ve known that he’s done questionable things in the past.”
That was the essence of her message, that her legal problems were Gray’s fault and her own for allowing him to take over so much of her life.
“I totally enabled him,” said Rodriguez, who was then interrupted by her attorney.
“And it’s his fault, and you’re still enabling him by saying it’s not his fault,” Reichel said. “He’s responsible for everything he’s done.”
Rodriguez said Gray had promised her he had stopped shoplifting, but added that he gave her the idea for a 2013 holiday season story on how easy it is to shoplift high-end purses during busy shopping times. That Fox40 report used an unnamed shoplifter, and Rodriguez said she could not identify the individual because, as a journalist, she had promised them anonymity at the time and does not have permission to reveal the name or say whether it was Gray.
“But he was the catalyst for the story,” she said.
Rodriguez added that she knew Gray was cultivating a marijuana grow in their garage, but that he had a medical marijuana card for it and that she thought the fire at their home was sparked by a problem with the stove.
She now says her 2 1/2-year relationship with Gray was “toxic” and that she has not seen or spoken to him since last summer, when she announced in a statement that she had “severed ties” with him, an announcement that came the same day Rodriguez resigned from KTXL-TV.
Her resignation came after a successful career that included seven Emmy awards, an investigative reporting award from The Associated Press and a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting, one that she says she values above the others.
Rodriguez, who grew up in Union City and whose mother died of breast cancer at 37 when Rodriguez was 8, said she had always wanted to go into television reporting.
“It’s the first thing I remember wanting to do,” she said, “because it was exciting and you got to travel and do different things.”
She still retains certain reflexes from the job, suggesting lighting for the interview, where to place the microphone and offering to help a photographer break down his equipment afterward.
And, she says, she understands that the profile her TV job gave her also has affected the coverage a run-of-the-mill shoplifting case is receiving.
“If I was anybody else, if I didn’t have the job that I did, you wouldn’t be here,” she said. “This wouldn’t be covered. This happens every day, it happens multiple times every day. Do those people get covered? No.
“But I get it. It’s a teasable story and it’s a sexy headline and it gets clicks, and it gets people to click on the page or read the story or tune in and listen. I totally understand why it got covered.”
As part of her deal, Rodriguez must speak at least three times to community groups, and she says she hopes she can do so regularly to women’s groups.
“If I can take anything positive from this really negative experience of going through everything, of leaving the station and having my name dragged through the mud, if I could help out other women, that would be really powerful,” she said.
She knows her case has been covered by outlets nationwide: The blog TVSpy called The Bee on Friday to clarify one point; the ABC News magazine 20/20 has been inquiring about talking to her.
And she still harbors hopes that she may have a future in the business.
“Maybe,” she said. “I mean, I’m good at it, obviously. I wouldn’t have the awards that I have if I wasn’t.
“But getting past this, I think, would take a news director who could see the benefits of hiring someone like me, and someone who’s been through the legal system who has gotten experience that you can’t really buy of going through the legal process.
“I mean, anything’s possible.”
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.