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Country Singer’s Murder Trial Opens

October 6, 1999

UVALDE, Texas (AP) _ Johnny Rodriguez acted in self defense when he shot and killed a longtime friend last year, his attorney told jurors Wednesday in opening statements at the country singer’s murder trial.

Rodriguez, 47, who had a series of Top Ten hits in the 1970s, shot Israel Borrego on Aug. 29, 1998, in his mother’s home of Sabinal, about 60 miles west of San Antonio. The singer, who faces a life prison term if convicted, says he thought Borrego was an intruder.

Prosecutor Tony Hackebeil told jurors Rodriguez had invited Borrego to a late-night drinking party at a house across the street from the home of Rodriguez’s mother. He indicated no motive but said the shooting occurred while Borrego was cooking breakfast for Rodriguez.

``He did not have good reason to do it,″ the prosecutor said.

Defense attorney Jay Norton told jurors Rodriguez found the door of his mother’s home unlocked at 4 a.m. and believed Borrego was a burglar.

``He sees a shadowy figure. He sees a silhouette. He sees a man in his house,″ Norton said.

Norton said Rodriguez reached for a pistol in a couch cushion and fired one shot that hit Borrego in the leg. The 26-year-old died several hours later.

The defense also painted the victim as a hostile figure who wasn’t invited to the party. Norton said Borrego had a bad reputation and a felony conviction for burglary.

Rodriguez had his first Top Ten hit in 1972 with ``Pass Me By (If You’re Only Passing Through).″ He moved to the top of Billboard’s Country Hit List with ``You Always Come Back (to Hurting Me)″ and again when he wrote and recorded ``Ridin’ My Thumb to Mexico.″

More than a dozen of his albums and singles landed in the Top 10. But his career suffered when he began to abuse drugs and alcohol, Rodriguez has said.

He said he has freed himself of drug addiction.

Carlos Tovar, another of Rodriguez’s longtime friends and the man at whose home the party was held, also was charged with murder but that charge was dropped Friday.

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