Stand Your Ground defense denied in Savannah Gold's killing

Lee Rodarte, 31, claims he accidentally snapped Gold's neck during a struggle

By Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A judge on Tuesday denied a stand your ground petition for a Jacksonville man who claims he accidentally killed his on-again, off-again girlfriend in self-defense.

Lee Rodarte, who's charged with murder in the 2017 killing of co-worker Savannah Gold, filed that petition last month, saying he believes he snapped Gold's neck during a violent struggle as he tried to shove her out of his vehicle.

Rodarte, 31, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of second-degree murder, evidence tampering and abuse of a dead body in the case. The high-profile case is expected to go to trial soon with jury selection set to begin on Monday.

A medical examiner found Gold had no broken bones, but 75 percent of her body was covered by second- and third-degree burns. While the autopsy did not determine a cause of death, it concluded that she died in a "violent homicide."

Gold, 21, was initially reported missing Aug. 3, 2017. Police later found she met with Rodarte the day before at the Jacksonville Bonefish Grill location where the couple worked. He was arrested a couple days later.

Surveillance footage released as part of the discovery process shows Gold getting into Rodarte's car outside the restaurant before she disappeared. The vehicle can be seen shaking and driving away from the parking lot.

Rodarte claims the pair got into an argument and Gold grew violent. His petition says he was acting out of fear when he tried to break her grip by grabbing her neck. At some point during the struggle, he said, he heard and felt a pop.

While Rodarte at first denied having anything to do with Gold's disappearance, police said he admitted killing her and then dumping her body. That information helped them recover Gold's body from a Westside pond.

Aside from surveillance video showing Rodarte's car near the pond where Gold was found, police said they found knives, gasoline, bleach and a fire pit at his home.

Copyright 2019 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.