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Bessie Rodriguez, mother of 12-year-old killed by Dallas officer in 1973, dies at 80

Bessie Rodriguez, the Dallas woman whose 12-year-old son was shot by a Dallas police officer in 1973, passed away Wednesday night, family members confirmed to Star-Telegram media partner, WFAA-TV. She was 80 years old.

Rodriguez was battling an illness, according to the report by WFAA.

The death of her son, Santos, lead to an uproar in Dallas’ Chicano community.

David Rodriguez, 13, left, and his brother Santos Rodriguez, 12, stand by a relative’s car in 1973 just one month before Santos was killed.
David Rodriguez, 13, left, and his brother Santos Rodriguez, 12, stand by a relative’s car in 1973 just one month before Santos was killed.

On July 24, 1973, Santos and his 13-year-old brother, David Rodriguez, were arrested at their home by Dallas police officers Darrell Lee Cain and Roy R. Arnold for an alleged petty theft at a gas station.

The boys were accused of burglarizing and stealing $8 from a soda machine at the gas station.

The two officers handcuffed Santos and David and were taken to the gas station where they had been accused of stealing.

While in the police car, Cain aimed his .357 Magnum revolver at Santos’ head and warned him to tell the truth about the burglary. Playing Russian roulette, Cain pulled the trigger once and then warned Santos again.

Pulling the trigger a second time, Cain shot Santos in the back of the head just after the boy told the officer, “I am telling the truth.”

The officer’s defense was that he thought he had emptied all the bullets from the gun. After his gun was examined, with all the chambers being loaded except for one, Cain testified he immediately reloaded the gun after the shooting.

Protests broke out in Dallas, with members of the Chicano community demanding justice and police reform from the Dallas police chief at the time, Frank Dyson, and the Dallas city council.

Darrell Lee Cain, the Dallas police officer who shot and killed Santos Rodriguez, and his attorney Phil Burleson walk on Dallas Street with a police escort on July 24, 1973.
Darrell Lee Cain, the Dallas police officer who shot and killed Santos Rodriguez, and his attorney Phil Burleson walk on Dallas Street with a police escort on July 24, 1973.

On Nov. 16, 1973, a jury found Cain guilty of murder with malice, sentencing him to five years in prison.

Cain served two-and-a-half years in Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville. According to the director of the Texas Department of Corrections, Cain behaved as a model prisoner, which earned him an early release.

In 1978, LULAC, Texas Latino legislators, and other civil rights organizations appealed to President Jimmy Carter for his assistance to file federal charges against Cain. Carter gave assurances that the Department of Justice would review the case. Attorney General Griffin Bell declined to pursue additional charges, however, citing the length of time since the crime.

Bessie Rodriguez wrote to Carter asking if his daughter had been murdered, would the killer have received a light sentence. She also wrote that if Santos had killed a police officer, his sentence would not have been as light as that given to Cain.

It wasn’t until July 2021, in a ceremony marking the 48 years since Santos’ death, that Bessie received an apology from the Dallas Police Department.

“He meant everything to me. He was my son. What they did to him was an injustice,” Bessie said to WFAA in a 2020 interview. “My boys didn’t have a chance.”