Middlesex DA, state and local police never gave up trying to find young woman’s killer after decades-old slaying
By Steve Freker
No one ever gave up trying to find out who shot and killed Malden teen Patricia “Tricia” Moreno outside her family’s Henry Street apartment on a mid-July night in the summer of 1991. Not the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, Mass. State Police or Malden Police. The years that passed never dimmed the hope of law enforcement that the case of a shocking murder of a young woman, just a few steps outside her home in a quiet Malden neighborhood, could be solved.
Three weeks after the 32nd anniversary of Tricia’s death, her still grieving foster family finally received some justice when a 50-year-old Georgia man – who formerly lived with them here in Malden – was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the fatal shooting. The guilty verdict in the 32-year-old “cold case” was announced by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Malden Police Chief Glenn Cronin this week, following the six-day trial of Rodney Daniels. Daniels, who was arrested in Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, on Sept. 27, 2021, was held without bail for nearly two years here in Massachusetts following his extradition on murder charges. The trial concluded with Daniels’ conviction on Tuesday.
No sentencing date has yet been announced. Those convicted of murder in the first degree in Massachusetts face life in prison without the possibility of parole.
New discoveries, a new witness and a witness who “flipped” in case
A series of discoveries, including re-interviewing of witnesses, the emergence of a new witness from the decades-old case and an alibi witness who changed her story before she died, implicating Daniels in the shooting, subsequently telling others Daniels ditched the murder weapon immediately after the crime, added up to charges against him.
The Middlesex District Attorney’s Cold Case Unit began reexamining this case in 2020, according to officials. Crime scene investigators returned to 21 Henry St. and reconstructed the position of Tricia on the third-floor fire escape.
“Based on the position of the entry wound and the trajectory of the bullet, they determined that the path of the bullet was consistent with having been fired by an individual standing in the area of the doorway to the apartment where Tricia had resided with her foster family,” according to a report from the DA’s office. Daniels had been staying in that home on the evening of the murder, the report stated.
“When a family loses a loved one in a homicide, even the passage of time never fully heals that wound. That is especially true when they do not have answers about what happened and no one has been held accountable,” DA Marian Ryan said Wednesday, the day after the conviction was confirmed. “Those who knew and loved Tricia have been waiting over three decades for answers. When I created our Cold Case Unit it was my hope that we would be able to get to these resolutions.”
DA Ryan: “These older cases present substantial challenges”
“These older cases present substantial challenges and require relentless investigative work and dedicated resources,” DA Ryan added.
Investigators also began re-interviewing witnesses and were able to locate a witness who had been out of the United States for an extended period, according to DA Ryan. That witness, who lived in the second-floor apartment at the time of Patricia’s murder, revealed that on the night of the murder he had been awakened by a loud noise and immediately looked up through the third-floor fire escape.
“He saw a young woman (later identified as Patricia Moreno) struggling to breathe with a male standing over her. He watched as that male retreated into the foster family’s apartment,” according to a news release from the DA’s office. “The witness was able to provide a physical description of that man which was consistent with the appearance of Rodney Daniels.”
Further, “Investigators also developed new information that an alibi witness, who had protected Daniels in 1991, had later admitted to her friends and family members that Daniels had killed Tricia, that he had concealed the murder weapon inside an armchair and that he had subsequently disposed of the gun.”
Investigators: Alibi witness admitted she lied to the grand jury
“That alibi witness, although now deceased, had admitted that she lied to police investigators and an investigating grand jury in 1991 in order to protect Daniels. She had said that, even many years later, she was afraid to disclose what she knew because she feared that admitting her complicity in the cover-up would expose her to prosecution,” according to the DA’s office.
District Attorney Ryan said, “The team that worked in this case was not deterred by the passage of time and used every tool at their disposal to root out new information critical to this successful prosecution.”
Armed with a substantial cache of new information, Massachusetts investigators obtained a warrant from the Malden District Court for the arrest of Rodney Daniels on the charge of murder. On September 27, 2021, Daniels was arrested at his home in Georgia by officers of the City of South Fulton Police, with the assistance of their Metro South Swat Team. He was arraigned in Georgia as a fugitive from justice and was transported back to Massachusetts to face trial for murder.
A release from the DA’s office explained the circumstances of Tricia’s shooting and later, her passing. “On the night of Patricia’s death, police responded to the third floor apartment at 21 Henry Street, Malden, where Patricia Moreno, known to those who loved her as Tricia, was found with a single gunshot wound to the head. That home was a foster home where she had been placed.” Also living in that apartment were the foster mother, her two teenage daughters, and the older daughter’s boyfriend, Rodney Daniels.
According to reports, when police and emergency medical personnel arrived, Tricia was found alone, face down, on the third floor fire escape landing, still breathing but seriously injured. She was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital, where it was determined that she had suffered an irreversible brain injury. She died that afternoon as a result of the gunshot wound.
No weapon or shell casing were ever found, delaying the probe
Despite an extensive search, no weapon or cartridge casing was recovered from the scene. A projectile – recovered from Tricia’s body during a subsequent autopsy – was examined by a State Police ballistics expert and determined to be consistent with having been fired from a .38 caliber weapon.
According to the DA’s report, “The other occupants of the apartment claimed that they had heard a pair of gunshots, but had no information as to the identity of the shooter. There was no evidence of forced entry into the home.”
“When the police interviewed Rodney Daniels, he claimed that he had been sleeping in an armchair in the living room when he was awakened by the sound of two gunshots,” according to the DA. “He claimed that he had walked out onto the fire escape where he located Patricia Moreno. Her foster mother called for police and an ambulance.”
Investigators in the case reported that police learned that Rodney Daniels had been in possession of multiple handguns close in time to the murder, including one that was consistent with a .38 caliber revolver. The investigation also revealed, “In the weeks before her death, Daniels had engaged in threatening behavior towards Tricia.”
Although numerous people were interviewed over the course of many years, police had not previously been able to gather sufficient evidence to make an arrest.
According to the DA’s office, the prosecutors assigned to this case were David Solet, Chief of the Cold Case Unit, and Jamie Charles, Senior Appellate Counsel. The Victim Witness Advocate assigned to the case was Kristen Chamberlain.