Crime - Sacto 911

Man convicted of 1978 slaying of two CHP officers on I-80 dies

Officer William M. Freeman
Officer William M. Freeman

The man convicted of killing two California Highway Patrol officers during a traffic stop on Interstate 80 in West Sacramento in 1978 has died.

Luis Valenzuela Rodriguez, 60, died of natural causes about 8 p.m. Thursday at a hospital in Chula Vista, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday.

Rodriguez was convicted of the Dec. 22, 1978, murders of CHP Officers William M. Freeman, 35, and Roy P. Blecher, 50.

He initially was sentenced to death, but in 1991 his sentence was reduced to life in prison without parole. At the time of his death, Rodriguez was incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

According to stories in The Sacramento Bee, officers Freeman and Blecher were shot and killed following a traffic stop along eastbound Interstate 80 in West Sacramento. Both officers were shot execution-style, Blecher with his hands cuffed behind his back.

Rodriguez, then 23, was arrested on Christmas Eve 1978 along with Margaret Klaess, his 18-year-old girlfriend. Klaess, as part of a plea agreement, turned state’s evidence and testified at trial that Rodriguez had single-handedly overpowered and disarmed the officers while she remained huddled in the car that she and Rodriguez had stolen the day before.

Klaess served two years in prison for aiding and abetting Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s seven-month trial turned into a 16-year ordeal that included a number of appeals based on the claim that juror misconduct and a judge’s pressuring of the jury deprived him of a fair trial. Although his sentence was reduced from death to life in prison, the courts upheld his conviction.

The section of Interstate 80 linking Davis and Sacramento was officially named the Blecher-Freeman Memorial Causeway in 1994.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy