Man convicted of killing toddler in Punta Gorda cold case

PUNTA GORDA, Fla. A man was found guilty Wednesday of brutally beating and killing a toddler nearly 20 years ago.

Keith Wilson, 46, was convicted of second-degree murder in the 1999 death of 3-year-old Pilar Rodriguez, whose body was never found. He’ll face up to life in prison at a Dec. 4 sentencing hearing.

Closing arguments in the eight-day trial took place Wednesday morning, and the six-person jury began deliberating around noon. The family of the girl quietly shed tears and embraced after the verdict was read around 3 p.m.

“It’s never going to be over,” Pilar’s aunt Penny Nelson said

Wilson, who was arrested in 2013 after new evidence surfaced, took the stand Tuesday and denied the charges. He disputed multiple witness testimonies and said he last saw Pilar, whom his then-girlfriend was babysitting for, at a Punta Gorda apartment on Feb. 1, 1999.

MORE: Man accused of Punta Gorda child murder takes stand

When he returned from work the next day, Pilar was gone, Wilson testified.

“He doesn’t show any remorse, and that hurts,” Pilar’s grandmother Shirley Coler said after the verdict was read.

The babysitter, Melissa Harding-Jones, testified that Wilson told her he put Pilar’s body in a garbage bag and buried her.

MORE: Babysitter testifies in Charlotte County child murder trial

Harding-Jones admitted she initially lied to police and was hoping her testimony would lead to a lighter sentence in her own case. She faces up to 30 years in prison as part of her plea agreement with prosecutors on an accessory charge.

Sentencing for Harding-Jones is set for Jan. 18.

Writer:Rachel Ravina
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