Criminal case against father whose twins died in hot car is put on hold

A prosecutor declined to bring the case involving Juan Rodriguez of New York City before a grand jury, meaning it has been "paused."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Scott Stump

The Bronx district attorney has decided not to put the case of the New York City father whose 1-year-old twins died when he left them in a hot car before a grand jury.

The decision means that the criminal case is still active but the prosecution has been paused, the district attorney's office told NBC News.

Juan Rodriguez left the Bronx Criminal Court after a judge ruled on Thursday that there is no criminal case against him at this time after police said his 1-year-old twins died when he left them in a hot car. Mark Lennihan / AP

Juan Rodriguez, 39, appeared in Bronx Criminal Court in New York on Thursday, when a judge ruled that there is no criminal case against him at this time, pending further investigation.

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Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter after police said he left his twins, Phoenix and Luna, in the car on July 26 while he went to his job as a social worker at the James J. Peters Veterans Affairs Medical Center from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The 22-year veteran of the National Guard told police he exited work and found the twins unresponsive in the car. Prosecutors say he told authorities he thought he had dropped them off at daycare.

"I blanked out, my babies are dead, I killed my babies," Rodriguez told investigators, according to the criminal complaint.

His wife, Marissa Rodriguez, released a statement in support of her husband on Monday.

"Though I am hurting more than I ever imagined possible, I still love my husband,'' she said. "He is a good person and great father and I know he would've never done anything to hurt our children intentionally. I will never get over this loss and I know he will never forgive himself for this mistake."

The organization KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit dedicating to keeping children safe in vehicles, also issued a statement that defended Juan Rodriguez.

"KidsAndCars.org was devastated to learn that the N.Y. father who unknowingly left his twins in the back seat of his car was charged within hours of finding his children had died,'' president and founder Janette Fennell said in a statement to NBC News. "There certainly was not enough time to conduct a full and thorough investigation before six charges were levied. All indications point to a wonderful, loving father who was unaware that his twins were in his vehicle all day. Tragedies like this can and do happen to doting, responsible, loving parents."

More than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990 and 21 have died this year through July 16, according to KidsAndCars.org.

Fennell recommends these seven tips every parent should follow to avoid the tragedy of their child dying in a hot car, including looking before you lock the doors, purposefully keeping something you need in the back seat, and always keeping the vehicle's doors locked.