The trial of a Medford man accused of stabbing a woman to death in the twilight hours of Sept. 1, began Tuesday with two of the victim's neighbors describing the attack.

The trial of a Medford man accused of stabbing a woman to death in the twilight hours of Sept. 1, began Tuesday with two of the victim's neighbors describing the attack.

Jose Valencia-Gaona, 45, is standing trial on a charge he murdered 38-year-old Maria Guadalupe Rodriguez at about 8:30 that night outside her apartment in the 1900 block of Table Rock Road.

Ursula Brackett of Medford testified in Jackson County Circuit Court that she arrived home from the grocery store and spoke with Rodriguez about 30 minutes before the attack.

Rodriguez seemed concerned, Brackett said.

"(She said) if I saw somebody that just didn't look like they should be there, I should call 911," Brackett said.

A few minutes later, Brackett said, she heard Rodriguez talking loudly in Spanish, then heard the woman yell her name. Brackett said she dashed around the corner and saw a man restraining and assaulting Rodriguez.

"I froze. I just stood there. I didn't know what to do," Brackett testified.

Brackett said she ran inside, her two children in tow, and alerted her boyfriend, Roderick Hawkins, who had been getting ready for work. Hawkins said he ran outside when he heard the cries for help and saw a man assaulting Rodriguez. The man then came at him with a large knife.

"He actually swung the knife at me, so I had to run," Hawkins testified.

Rodriguez tried to follow, but she was caught by her attacker, Hawkins said. By the time the man fled, Rodriguez had been stabbed four times.

Rodriguez was pronounced dead by emergency responders at 9:09 p.m.

Both Hawkins and Brackett described the suspect as a Hispanic man with black, spiked hair and a stocky build.

A recording of neighbor Trinity Reid's hysterical 911 call for help was played in court. Reid made the call after Rodriguez stumbled bleeding into her apartment and fell onto a couch.

Reid testified she opened her apartment door after hearing Rodriguez scream and saw her and the attacker run by before slamming it shut.

A few seconds passed, Reid said, before "Maria was screaming and banging on the front door screaming for help."

When Reid opened the door, Rodriguez stumbled in and collapsed, Reid said.

"She is dying on the floor!" she shouted to the 911 dispatcher. "She is trying to breath but she can't. ... Send help!"

By the time Medford police Officer Erika Doran arrived on scene, Rodriguez was unconscious and not breathing.

Doran and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Rodriguez, according to their testimony.

Police arrested Valencia-Gaona for murder three days later.

In opening statements before Circuit Judge Tim Barnack, prosecutors said text messages on Rodriguez's phone, analyzed by detectives, show she had been in the midst of a breakup with someone, labeled in her phone as "Jose 2."

Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Ruby Herriott said detectives tracked the calls to a nearby fast food restaurant. An analysis revealed several calls and texts had been made from it to Rodriguez's phone just prior to the murder.

A knife that witnesses said was discarded by the fleeing suspect was found near the scene, prosecutors said. DNA found on the blade matched Rodriguez's, and DNA found on the handle matched Valencia-Gaona's, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys told jurors that the state's case has several holes, and that there is not enough evidence pointing to Valencia-Gaona as the attacker.

"Listen for those things that are missing," said defense attorney Alyssa Bartholomew. "Listen for those things that don't quite make sense, and make sure that those stay in the back of your mind."

Several family members and friends of the victim attended the trial wearing shirts with Rodriguez's picture on them and the message, "In life and memory of Maria Rodriguez."

Family members described Rodriguez as "the life of the party" and someone who cared deeply for others.

"It's not the same without her," said Erin Carrillo, whose husband was Rodriguez's cousin. "She was just a caring person."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or Follow him at