HARRISONBURG — A Harrisonburg man who admitted to killing a woman and her granddaughter, decapitating them and burying their heads along Interstate 81 in Shenandoah County, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hareton Jaime Rodriguez Sariol, 49, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of first-degree murder in Rockingham County Circuit Court on Oct. 4 in connection with the August deaths of Elizabeth Rodriguez Rubio, 48, and Angie Caroline Rodriguez Rubio, 12.
On Tuesday, Judge Bruce Albertson handed down two life sentences.
“I find you too dangerous to be free,” Albertson told Sariol.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst outlined the details of the murder during Sariol’s plea hearing in October.
Garst said police pieced together the facts of the case using Sariol’s statements, GPS tracking, cellphone plotting, video surveillance captured by several businesses, credit card transactions and receipts.
On Aug. 5, Elizabeth Rubio was in Harrisonburg visiting family, according to the pastor of La Roca Eterna Hermanos en Cristo in the Dukes Plaza shopping center, where she and her granddaughter were last seen.
The Rubios attended a 1 p.m. church service that Sunday.
After the service, Sariol was to take them to Elizabeth Rubio’s home in Maryland, but they never arrived.
In a Sept. 5 confession, Garst said, Sariol told investigators that they were headed to Maryland when Elizabeth Rubio, who was driving Sariol’s car, ran off the right side of I-81 and into a ditch.
After Elizabeth Rubio went to the back seat to check on her granddaughter while stopped on the side of the interstate, Sariol looked at Elizabeth Rubio’s cellphone, which she left in her purse on the front seat. Sariol told authorities that he noticed a text message that made him “angry and jealous.”
Garst didn’t elaborate on the message. State police previously said he had a “known infatuation” with Elizabeth Rubio.
Sariol then grabbed a .22-caliber handgun, which he told authorities he gave Elizabeth Rubio for protection and pointed it toward the back seat before firing.
Garst said Angie Rubio jumped in front of the gun to protect her grandmother. The bullet struck her in the head.
Sariol then shot the grandmother in the head and chest.
He said he covered the bodies in the back seat and drove away.
Sariol later purchased gas at Southern States on North Liberty Street in Harrisonburg and gloves, lighters and knives from the Walmart on Va. 42 just south of the city.
He then drove to several spots before stopping at the Shenandoah National Park in Greene County, where he dumped the bodies.
Garst said he cut their heads off, placed them in a bag and put the bag in his car.
Later that night, he dumped gasoline on the engine and set the car on fire on Interstate 66 in Warren County.
The car was seized and processed by police. Garst said investigators found a shell casing from a .22-caliber handgun in the car, and the weapon was later found in a field near Mount Crawford.
The following night, Garst said, he buried the victims’ heads along I-81 in northern Shenandoah County before driving his tractor-trailer toward Pennsylvania.
The following morning, family members had reported the Rubios missing. On the afternoon of Aug. 7, the Virginia State Police issued an Amber Alert, and the Harrisonburg Police Department obtained a warrant for Sariol’s arrest on abduction charges.
Sariol was apprehended that evening driving a 2000 Volvo tractor-trailer by Pennsylvania State Police and U.S. marshals in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania.
When questioned in Pennsylvania, Garst said, he told authorities, “My conscious is clean. I didn’t do anything.”
But, on Sept. 5, Garst said, Sariol confessed and led police to the bodies.
The confession came as part of a deal offered by Garst in exchange for Sariol leading police to the Rubios’ bodies.
Sariol could have faced the death penalty. Virginia law sets out several aggravating factors that qualify a case for capital punishment, including the murder of a child by an adult.
Sariol is a Cuban refugee who came to the United States in 2016 with about two dozen others who boarded a raft and headed to Miami to seek asylum.
Several media outlets in Miami reported that Sariol, a former captain in Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police, was in full uniform when he arrived in Florida.
Garst confirmed Sariol was a police officer in Cuba for 28 years.
‘My heart hurts’
During Tuesday’s sentencing, Elizabeth Rubio’s daughter and Angela Rubio’s mother, Sandra Viviana Marroquin, testified about the pain she’s dealt with since losing her loved ones.
Marroquin said she has a hard time sleeping, eating and completing ordinary tasks.
“It’s been very distressing,” Marroquin said through a translator. “My heart hurts. I wish they were still here.”
Sariol cried as several other family members testified.
Garst asked Albertson to give Sariol two life sentences, instead of following recommended sentencing guidelines, which called for 22 to 41 years in prison.
She said Sariol already received a break in that the victim’s family forgave him and didn’t want to see Sariol put to death.
“The court can’t issue him death,” Garst told Albertson. “The family has already given him mercy.”
Garst said Sariol went through an elaborate process in an attempt to cover up the crime.
“We have a man that is very smart,” Garst said. “He’s a conniving, clever man. He almost got away with it.”
She also said his sobbing wasn’t because he was sorry.
“You may see tears, but they’re only for himself,” Garst said.
Sariol’s attorney, John Elledge, made a brief argument to spare his client from life behind bars and instead asked Albertson to sentence Sariol within the guidelines.
“His remorse is genuine,” he told the judge.
Before Albertson’s ruling, Sariol addressed the court for more than 20 minutes.
Sariol told the judge about his time in Cuba’s military, including taking part in the Cuban intervention in Angola in 1975.
Sariol said he watched friends die.
Once he left combat, he said, he suffered from “post-war syndrome” and was institutionalized twice.
After arriving in the United States, he said, he began dating Elizabeth Rubio.
On the day of the killing, he said, “everything happened very fast.”
He said the text message he saw resulted in a war flashback. He said he grabbed the gun and fired.
“I will never repent enough to repay them,” he said.
Sariol’s story wasn’t enough to persuade Albertson to spare him from life in prison.
Instead of lashing out at Sariol, Albertson chose to craft his words at sentencing to highlight the wonderful people the Rubios were.
“They made this world a better place,” he said.
He also noted how powerful it was that Angela Rubio gave her life trying to protect her grandmother, and how Elizabeth Rubio was killed while comforting her granddaughter.
“Their last moments were about love and sacrifice,” he said. “He tried to take that love, and he failed.”