WASHINGTON — A Virginia man admitted in court on Friday to strangling his girlfriend with his hands and then disposing of her body eight years ago.
Jose Rodriguez-Cruz, 52, of Arlington, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the 2009 death and disappearance of Pamela Butler, who was 47 when she was last seen outside of her Brightwood apartment in D.C. She was declared dead in 2016.
As part of a plea agreement with D.C. prosecutors, Rodriguez-Cruz was sentenced to 12 years in prison, under the condition he help investigators try to find Butler’s remains.
He was originally charged in April with first-degree murder.
“We don’t care if he doesn’t get any time, we just want the body,” Butler’s brother Derrick Butler told Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo.
Butler’s family long suspected Rodriguez-Cruz was involved in her disappearance. Cold case detectives picked up the case earlier this year and uncovered evidence that domestic violence contributed to Butler’s death and possibly the death of Rodriguez-Cruz’s first wife, Marta Cruz.
Arlington County cold case detectives have begun actively investigating Cruz’s 1989 disappearance and are working with D.C. police and other law enforcement, county police confirmed to WTOP.
Prosecutor Deborah Sines told the judge Rodriguez-Cruz and Butler argued in her basement, on Feb. 13, 2009.
Sines said the argument concerned the defendant’s job and financial status, which Butler believed her boyfriend wasn’t trying hard enough to improve.
Rodriguez-Cruz punched Butler in the face, knocking her to the ground, before he straddled her and strangled her.
Sines said Rodriguez-Cruz disarmed Butler’s home motion sensor, before carrying her body upstairs to the first floor.
“He lowered her body out of the window by her feet, and dropped her body on the ground below,” Sines described, while offering a proffer of what the evidence would show, if the case went to trial.
Both the defense and prosecution asked the judge to sentence Rodriguez-Cruz immediately, to allow the search for her remains to continue before winter arrives, when cold temperatures could make it more difficult to recover any remains, Sines said.
Derrick Butler described the long wait for justice as “agonizing.”
“I couldn’t give up,” he said.
His mother, Thelma, told the judge she initially liked Rodriguez-Cruz.
“I thought he was nice to her,” she said in court, but outside the courthouse she acknowledged her initial impression was wrong.
She said the guilty plea will help relieve the daily burden and grief she has endured since her daughter disappeared.
“I feel good today,” she said.
Asked if they have an idea where Butler’s remains are, based on what Rodriguez-Cruz has told them so far, prosecutors declined to answer, but said the search for her remains is underway.
Under the plea agreement, if Rodriguez-Cruz fails to make a good-faith effort to locate the secreted remains, or if he attempts to mislead investigators, the plea deal would be withdrawn, and he would face the original charge of first degree murder
“We can’t say definitely we’re going to find Pam,” Sines acknowledged. “That’s the goal, but 2009 was a long time ago.”