PUNTA GORDA, Fla.- Sheriff Bill Prummell announced that following the plea this morning of one defendant in the case of the 1999 death of a 4-year old, a second suspect has been arrested on a Charlotte County warrant in Kentucky.
At about 10:15 this morning, members of the Kentucky State Police, the FBI and the Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit arrested Keith Wilson, 42, in the area of Owingsville, Kentucky on the warrant charging him with First Degree Murder in the death of Pilar Rodriguez in February 1999. He was taken into custody without incident and is currently being processed.
Detectives obtained the warrant this morning from Circuit Judge Amy Hawthorne after she accepted a plea from Melissa Harding-Jones to a charge of Accessory After the Fact, a first degree felony, in reference this case.
The Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit has examined several unsolved homicide and missing person’s cases, including the case of Pilar Rodriguez. Pilar was last seen in the company of her babysitter, Melissa Cooper, now known as Melissa Harding Jones, and her then-boyfriend, Keith Wilson in the Punta Gorda area in February 1999. Pilar’s father, Marco Rodriguez, filed a missing person’s report that initiated an extensive investigation into Pilar’s disappearance. Early leads and statements indicated that foul play was probable and that Pilar was most likely deceased.
Evidence and materials related to this case were reviewed by Cold Case detectives and Detective Kurt Mehl was assigned as the lead investigator. Det. Mehl organized the enormous case file while Detective Mike Vogel reviewed and examined each item of evidence related to this case. Subsequent interviews were conducted and additional evidence was obtained through search warrants, surveillance operations and public information solicitations.
Throughout the investigation the Cold Case Unit maintained frequent contact with the State Attorney’s Office. Assistant State Attorney Dan Feinberg and Investigator Jennifer LaDelfa provided valuable assistance throughout the investigation. Special Agents Jim Ronsinski, John Kuchta and Lynn Billings of the FBI and their teams dedicated numerous hours assisting Charlotte County detectives in various phases of this case.
In August 2010, detectives had gathered sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for the arrest of Harding Jones. It was as a result of that arrest that Harding Jones entered a guilty plea this morning. After Harding Jones responded to questions from ASA Feinberg, Judge Hawthorne accepted her guilty plea, indicating that it had been “freely and voluntarily given.” Harding Jones was accompanied by her attorney, Robert Barrar during the proceeding.
Shortly thereafter, detectives obtained the warrant for Wilson, which was served this morning by the FBI and the Kentucky State Police. After he is processed in Kentucky, he will be extradited back to Charlotte County.
This case is still an active investigation.
Sheriff Prummell would like to thank the many agencies, both law enforcement and civilian, that assisted the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit throughout this investigation.