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Transient Convicted of Reporter’s Slaying

August 26, 1989

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ A judge found a drifter guilty of first-degree murder Friday in the beating death of a 24-year-old woman who had just started working as an intern reporter at the local newspaper.

Rodney Woidtke, 28, was convicted of killing Audrey Cardenas, a recent graduate of Texas A&M University who had been in town only 11 days when she disappeared June 19, 1988.

Her nude body was found in a dry creek bed a week later by a custodian at Belleville Township High School East. Ms. Cardenas, formerly of Bakersfield, Calif., had come to Illinois to work for the Belleville News-Democrat.

Judge Richard A. Aguirre, who presided over the five-day bench trial, set sentencing for Sept. 28. Woidtke could face a 20- to 60-year sentence.

In closing arguments earlier Friday, defense attorney Brian K. Trentmann said police made Woidtke a scapegoat in the slaying and failed to fully examine the possibility of other suspects.

″They picked up this poor transient who clearly has a mental problem and threw him in the slammer,″ Trentmann said.

Scott Mansfield, assistant St. Clair County state’s attorney, said Woidtke knew too much about the crime scene to be innocent - including the position of the pipe used in the murder.

″I think the evidence shows clearly that the defendant is a troubled person, full of sexual delusions, feelings of sexual inadequacies, with a burning desire to find a woman and have a relationship,″ Mansfield said.

″He decided to take that action and got himself a woman. We don’t know how, but he got Audrey Cardenas.″

At a pre-trial hearing last week, police Sgt. Mark Heffernan said that when he interviewed Woidtke on June 27, 1988 - the day he was arrested for crossing police lines near the site where the body was discovered a day earlier - the first question he asked was whether the suspect had killed and sexually assaulted Ms. Cardenas.

″He answered yes and no. He answered that he had killed her but that he did not rape her,″ Heffernan said.

It could not be determined whether Ms. Cardenas had been raped because of the decomposition of her body, authorities said.

Court-appointed psychologist Dr. Daniel Cuneo testified Friday that when he first examined Woidtke last summer, he concluded the defendant was a paranoid schizophrenic.

Woidtke initially was ruled unfit to stand trial in Ms. Cardenas’ death.

In June, based on a report by a psychiatrist at the Chester Mental Health Center that he had made substantial improvement, a judge declared Woidtke fit for trial.

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