The family of a Mira Mesa teen-ager slain early this year appealed to the public for help with the case Tuesday, a week after a state Supreme Court decision that could lead to dismissing murder charges against the prime suspect.
Jeffrey Rudiger was a 16-year-old junior at Mira Mesa High School when his badly beaten and handcuffed body was found in a Scripps Ranch commercial complex Jan. 22. Mark Radke, 21, who worked with Rudiger at a Chuck E. Cheese pizza restaurant, was arrested that evening and later charged with the murder.
The case against Radke was dealt a major setback, however, when the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in July that his arrest had been made without probable cause, meaning that all evidence gathered as a result of his detention was inadmissible.
Chance for Review Slim
The district attorney’s office appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court, which last week declined to review it. Prosecutors are now preparing a petition to the U. S. Supreme Court, but the chances that the high court will agree to review the case are deemed slim. Radke is free on $300,000 bail.
Meanwhile, Rudiger’s relatives are keeping a nervous vigil. Aware that prosecutors have a seriously weakened case, the family feels frustrated, angry and convinced that the criminal justice system has let them down.
“It’s not only missing my brother, but I was going to go to law school, and now I’m not because I just don’t believe in this system,” Kelly Rudiger, Jeffrey’s 21-year-old sister, said at a press conference Tuesday.
The gathering, put on by the California Center for Victimology, was designed to publicize the case in the hope that witnesses who may have additional evidence will come forward.
Judith Rowland, executive director of the center, noted that several witnesses in the Craig Peyer murder trial waited until the eleventh hour to contact prosecutors, largely because they were unaware their information was vital to the case.
‘Act of Courage’
“We urge those who may have information to come forward immediately,” Rowland said. “The family is aware that this will require an act of courage. Justice cannot be done, however, without courage, not for a nation and not for one 16-year-old boy whose murder should not be dismissed.”
Both Rowland and Rudiger’s stepfather, Richard Marshall, said they
believe there are witnesses to the crime who have yet to come forward. Marshall said he also believes that more than one person was involved in his stepson’s death, but he declined to elaborate.
Joe Rudiger, Jeffrey’s father, is offering a $10,000 reward for information useful to the prosecution.
Rudiger was last seen the evening of Jan. 21. His bludgeoned, partly clothed body was found the next morning. Witnesses said he had been struck 26 times with a blunt object, probably a hammer.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Thomas McArdle said police took an interest in Radke after several co-workers at the pizza parlor said Rudiger told them he was planning to meet Radke the night of Jan. 21. Plainclothes detectives then inspected Radke’s car and found that the tire tread appeared to match marks left in a pool of blood at the murder scene.
Later, McArdle said, detectives in an unmarked car approached Radke at a stoplight and told him they wanted to discuss Rudiger’s death.
“In the course of the discussion, the officers saw his hands were cut and bruised, suggesting he had been in a fight,” McArdle said. “They knew the condition of Rudiger’s body--badly beaten and cut--and so the hands, and they felt that extra information added up to the probable cause they needed to take him in.”
The 4th District court held that the detectives went astray in two ways: One officer drew his revolver during the stop, and Radke was placed in handcuffs as he was taken to the police station for questioning.
“It would have been a legal detention, but it was converted into an illegal arrest by the use of the handcuffs and the gun,” McArdle said. Consequently, every piece of evidence gathered as a result of the arrest is excluded.
McArdle said evidence includes statements from Radke, the condition of his hands, blood on the inside and outside of his car and other assorted physical evidence.
Douglas Brown, Radke’s attorney, speculated that the district attorney “does not have a prosecutable case without that evidence.” Brown said he will seek dismissal of the murder charge if prosecutors lose their bid to stay further proceedings in the case pending action by the U. S. Supreme Court.