As Sabrina Rodriguez walked out of Sacramento Superior Court on Thursday morning, a well-wisher sitting on a courtroom bench reached out to shake her hand and wish her luck.
“I watched you all the time on TV,” the man said as Rodriguez, a former Fox40 news anchor and accused shoplifter, thanked him and made her way out of Judge Helena Gweon’s courtroom.
The 31-year-old Emmy-winning television reporter made her first court appearance – and her first public comments – since being charged with three felony counts July 31 and resigning from her job five days later.
“First appearance in court and the start to a long road of clearing my name and re-establishing my reputation, so it’s something that I’m really looking forward to,” Rodriguez told The Sacramento Bee in brief statements after court. “As you saw in court, there are a number of people out there who have just been unbelieveably supportive.
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“And it’s been really heartwarming and inspirational and has given me strength. I didn’t expect the overwhelming support that I’ve gotten.”
Rodriguez, who was considered a rising star in Sacramento’s television world until her fall from grace, did not enter a plea Thursday and is scheduled to return to court Sept. 9.
She may face a long legal road as she tries to extricate herself from allegations that she and her ex-fiancé conspired in a brazen shoplifting scheme that, he later boasted, netted $200,000 in merchandise in a two-month span, according to court records.
Rodriguez is out on $10,000 bail, while the ex-fiancé, Nicholas Gray, remains in the Sacramento County jail facing charges of grand theft, burglary and conspiracy, as well as charges of drug possession and manufacture and causing a blaze that destroyed the couple’s south Sacramento home in May. Court records indicate the blaze and explosion were caused by Gray manufacturing hash oil from marijuana.
Accompanied by her attorney, Mark Reichel, and Sacramento crisis communications expert Doug Elmets, Rodriguez stopped to talk briefly outside the Sacramento County jail, which houses the courtroom where she was arraigned as well as the fourth-floor cell where Gray was in custody Thursday.
Rodriguez issued a statement Aug. 5 saying she had “severed ties” with Gray. He subsequently missed two court appearances while under observation in the jail’s psychiatric unit, but has since been returned to other housing and is declining all media interview requests.
Court records show Gray, 30, has prior convictions for burglary, resisting an executive officer, felony stalking and felony transportation of marijuana.
Court records also quote him as admitting “that while he was in college (approximately 10 years ago) he committed a home invasion robbery where he used a gun to steal a rival drug dealer’s marijuana. The defendant also admitted committing numerous additional residential burglaries.”
Rodriguez declined to discuss Gray on Thursday, focusing most of her comments on thanking her supporters and saying that “has really just meant a lot to me.”
“I think when things like this happen to people, someone can find a little bit of themselves in it,” she said, conceding that being the subject of an interview seemed awkward.
“It’s a new experience, obviously, and I would much rather be where you are and holding the microphone asking questions than being the one who’s answering,” Rodriguez said. “But it is a process and I know it’s going to take a while.”
Her legal troubles stem from a March 2013 shopping trip to the Folsom Outlets. She faces three felony counts in which prosecutors allege she helped Gray shoplift at the Coach store there and conspired with him in other shoplifting incidents.
Reichel has said Rodriguez is “completely innocent.”