Man accused of strangling a La Crosse mother goes to court

Published On: Sep 24 2012 06:44:34 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 24 2012 07:14:45 PM CDT
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

A man charged with strangling a La Crosse mother to death and leaving her body in a parking lot was in court Monday for the first day of his trial.

Izelia Golatt is charged with killing Kristen Rodgers in March.

More than half a year later, her husband is testifying at her murder trial.

When Dwayne Rodgers thinks back to the last time he saw his wife alive, he can't help but wish she hadn't headed out the door alone.

The next time he saw his wife, he was identifying her body, which was found face down in a north side parking lot.

"I was devastated, basically, and started crying,” he said. “I still feel like it's a dream, you know, just hoping that somebody will wake me up and tell me it was just a joke or something like that."

The person accused of strangling her to death was someone she knew -- Izelia Golatt. .

According to testimony in court, Kristen Rodgers met up with him in the early-morning hours of March 6 to buy some crack cocaine.

Surveillance footage shows the two of them in Golatt's van, driving to the alley where Rodgers' body was later found, and parking there for 17 minutes.

The prosecution argues that's when Golatt killed her and abandoned the body.

The autopsy showed she was strangled.

"He was the last person seen with her. He was the last person to be driving with her at Kwik Trip and driving down the alley, that her body was found exactly where he would have been parked,” said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke in his opening statement. “She died from strangulation and the defendant's DNA profile is present on her neck."

The defense has a very different idea of what happened during those 17 minutes the van was parked.

"Izelia Golatt drove away at 2:14 a.m. and Kristen Rodgers was alive," said defense attorney Allan Beatty in his opening statement.

Rodgers had been smoking crack throughout the day and night, plus her toes were frostbitten when her body was found.

Because of that, the defense is arguing Rodgers died from a combination of drug overdose and hypothermia -- and that would have taken more than 17 minutes.

"Frostbite only occurs in living bodies. During the early morning on March 6, the temperature in La Crosse was in the low 30s, the wind chill was in the high 20s. It takes longer than 17 minutes to get frostbite in those weather conditions," said Beatty.

And while his wife's murder trial may be tough to sit through, Dwayne Rodgers said it's nothing compared with the emotions he's been feeling since he lost her.

"I miss her. I want to talk to her. I want to see her. I want to hug her. Every day," he said.

Dwayne and Kristen Rodgers were living separately at the time of her death, but in close contact. On her last day alive, the two smoked crack together at the halfway house for recovering addicts where she was living.

He said he is sobering up as a way of commemorating his wife.

Golatt faces life in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to wrap up by the end of the week.

Rodgers left behind three children.