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Tommy Brown thought Cristina Rodriguez was pregnant with his child. Her other boyfriend thought the baby was actually his. Both men were wrong -- and one wound up dead.
Tommy Lee Brown grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and after high school, he worked for his father’s janitorial service, later taking over the business. In 2004, Tommy began a relationship with co-worker Connie Moreno. Though they were together for almost a decade, their domestic bliss was punctuated by frequent breakups.
“He was really in love with Connie and he really wanted a life with Connie,” sister Andrea Brown told "Snapped," airing on Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. But more than anything, Tommy wanted children. In spring 2013, Tommy and Moreno enlisted a surrogate to bear Tommy’s child. Before the child arrived, however, the couple again split up.
His dreams of having a child would never come true. On Sept. 7, 2013, Andrea went to Tommy’s home after not hearing from him for several days, which was unusual. He didn’t answer the door, so she let herself in using a spare key he kept in the mailbox. Upon entering, she saw her brother lying on the floor and called 911.
When investigators arrived they found Tommy Brown, 51, lying face down in a hallway outside the bathroom. He had been dead for several days. Plastic bags had been duct taped around Tommy’s neck and his hands were tied behind his back with a shoelace. He had multiple blunt-force trauma injuries to the head and nine fractured ribs, according to court documents.
“He had bruises and contusions all over his body. Part of his head was split open. I mean, his face looked like he had gotten into a fight with Mike Tyson. It was one of the most savage beatings that I’ve ever seen,” prosecutor Bill Vassar told “Snapped.”
Shards of porcelain were found on the floor around Tommy, and two distinct shoe prints were identified in the dried blood on the floor. Still, the killer had tried to clean up after themselves. Bleach had been poured over Tommy's body.
There were no signs of a forced entry, although several items were missing from the home. This included a television, Tommy's wallet, his car keys, and his truck.
“My initial feeling was this was somebody he allowed in his home so we felt like most likely our suspect or suspects were going to be someone he knew,” Fort Worth Police Detective Matthew Barron told producers.
Tommy’s missing truck matched a vehicle that was left running at a nearby convenience store the day before, and had been impounded. In the back of the truck was a trash can filled with bloody items and pieces of chipped porcelain that matched those found on the floor of Tommy’s home. The pieces, they realized, were once part of a toilet tank lid.
Investigators interviewed Andrea and learned her brother was juggling two women at once. Besides Connie Moreno, Tommy had a new girlfriend named Cristina Rodriguez. Tommy and Rodriguez became pen pals while she was incarcerated. In 2002, she had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for aggravated robbery, according to a 2017 The Dallas Morning News report.
The incident occurred when Rodriguez answered an ad for a home health aide for an 82-year-old man. At the end of her first day on the job, the man called his daughters in a panic.
“When the two daughters get there he was tied up with a phone cord, he’s been assaulted, and the house has been ransacked. That was what Cristina did,” Vassar told “Snapped.”
While in prison, Rodriguez corresponded with both Tommy and Moreno, eventually agreeing to have a baby for the couple. When she was granted early release in 2011, she started traveling to Fort Worth to see Tommy, usually when he and Moreno were in the middle of one of their frequent breakups.
In the spring of 2013, Rodriguez told Tommy she was pregnant with his child. As with Moreno, their relationship was filled with drama. In August 2013, Tommy had even filed a police report, claiming Rodriguez had taken his wallet and television.
While investigators were interviewing Andrea and learning all about Rodriguez, she received a text message from someone pretending to be her brother.
“He says, ‘Hey, I’m going to El Paso. My girlfriend’s pregnant. What do you want?' I had Andrea go ahead and text his phone and say, ‘Hey, it’s no problem, just call me when you get back from El Paso,'" Fort Worth Police Detective Thomas O’Brien told producers.
Another crucial lead came when one of Tommy's neighbors reported seeing a man and a woman entering Tommy’s home two days earlier. The man was a black male with long hair. The woman was heavy-set and Hispanic. The description matched Cristina Rodriguez.
Detectives also learned Tommy's bank debit card had been used at a 7-11 in Fort Worth on the morning of September 6 and so they obtained the store’s security camera footage.
“We see a tall black male coming into the store and he had a bandage wrapped around his hand. That was consistent with our crime scene too and the belief that somebody had injured themselves at the crime scene,” Barron told.
The same individual was also filmed using Tommy’s card at a Dollar General store in the company of Rodriguez.
On September 9, Tommy’s co-worker Deboragh Grimes also received a text message from someone pretending to be Tommy. It said, “my girl is in the hospital and im low in cash is there anyway I can borrow some cash,” according to court documents.
The text messages claimed Tommy had lost his wallet and asked that the money be sent via MoneyGram to a man named Braylon Ellis.
The U.S. Marshals Service were able to trace Tommy's cell phone to a home in Snellville, Georgia, just northeast of Atlanta. The home belonged to Ellis’ mother. Ellis and Rodriguez were apprehended there on Sept. 10, 2016. Tommy's cell phone was found inside the house while his wallet was inside their car.
Rodriguez immediately invoked her right to an attorney but Ellis agreed to talk to detectives. He claimed he met Rodriguez in early 2013 and moved in with her in March. He said he loved Rodriguez and that she was pregnant with his child.
In fact, Rodriguez wasn’t pregnant with either man’s child. “It turns out that was just some big con. She was never pregnant,” O’Brien told producers.
In March 2016, Braylon Dominique Ellis was tried for the murder of Tommy Brown. He was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison, according to court documents.
When Rodriguez was tried 10 months later, Ellis testified against her. Ellis said Rodriguez claimed Tommy had abused her and so the two of them drove to his house on September 5 to "beat [Tommy] up" and "take [Tommy's] things," according to court documents. Rodriguez used Tommy’s spare key to sneak into his house. Ellis hid in the bathroom and grabbed the toilet tank lid to use as a weapon.
When Tommy got home, Ellis struck him over the head with the toilet tank lid, beating Tommy until he fell to the floor, according to court documents.
“Tommy’s on the ground. He’s gasping. Cristina comes in, hands [Ellis] a pot from the kitchen and goes, ‘Here, use this,’ and so he hits him on the head two or three times with the pot. Then he put the bag over Tommy’s head,” Vassar told “Snapped.”
On Jan. 30, 2017, Rodriguez was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. Both Rodriguez and Ellis will be eligible for parole in 2043.
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