Trial of man charged in girlfriend's murder placed on hold

Lee Rodarte claims he accidentally killed Savannah Gold in self-defense

By Maggie Lorenz - Multi-media journalist, Garrett Pelican - Digital executive producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The trial of a Jacksonville man who claims self-defense in the killing of his on-again, off-again girlfriend has been placed on hold.

Lee Rodarte, 31, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a dead body in the 2017 homicide of 21-year-old Savannah Gold.

On Friday, an appeals court issued a stay in the case after Rodarte's lawyer filed a challenge to a circuit judge's ruling that denied his petition for legal protection under the Stand Your Ground law.

Jury selection for Rodarte's trial was scheduled to begin on Monday. 

Now the trial must wait until the state makes a case explaining why Rodarte's petition should be denied. The defense will then get an opportunity to respond before the appeals court hands down its ruling.

Rodarte, who dated Gold and was her co-worker at a Jacksonville Bonefish Grill location, has been in custody since he was arrested Aug. 5, 2017, two days after Gold was reported missing.

While investigating her disappearance, police found surveillance video of the restaurant's parking lot. It showed Gold getting into Rodarte's vehicle, which could then be seen shaking before it drove away.

At first, Rodarte denied having anything to do with Gold's disappearance. Detectives later got a statement from him that led them to the pond where the young woman's body was dumped.

Rodarte claims he defended himself when Gold grew violent during an argument inside his car, saying she repeatedly slapped him and grabbed him by the neck, according to a copy of his petition.

"In pain and fearing imminent serious bodily harm, (Rodarte) grabbed Ms. Gold's neck in an effort to break her grip," the petition states, adding that he felt and heard Gold's neck pop during the struggle.

A medical examiner called Gold's death as a "violent homicide" and found three-quarters of her body was burned. The autopsy did not find any broken bones and did not determine a cause of death.

Both sides are expected to appear in Duval County court on Sept. 23 for a status hearing.

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