The last time he spoke to his son, Dennis Fink talked about his research on slowing the effects of aging.
Michael Fink recalled the irony of his father’s death — he was stabbed multiple times by a man who broke into his Bern Township home nearly two years ago — as he read a victim impact statement Friday morning to Berks County Judge Paul Yatron before the judge handed down the mandatory life sentence to the killer.
“It is extremely sad to me,” Michael Fink said, “that after all of this effort, research and knowledge he had obtained and shared with others, his life would be taken suddenly by an act of violence.”
The sentencing came just a day after a jury needed only an hour to find Raphael Perez-Rodriguez, 31 acts, guilty of all charges, including first-degree murder, robbery, burglary and offenses offenses in what the prosecutor called a series of heinous committed July 16, 2020, against 76-year-old Dennis Fink, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam.
Fink was a random victim, prosecutors said, targeted because he lived alone in a secluded home at the end of a 100-foot driveway off Tully Lane, a cul-de-sac not far from the Reading line.
Perez-Rodriguez is already serving a 20- to 40-year state prison sentence for burglarizing the John P. Feeney Funeral Home in Reading a month before breaking into Fink’s home and killing him.
During the break-in of the Feeney mansion, a Center Park landmark for nearly a century, Perez-Rodriguez fired a shot through the basement door in the direction of Reading police officers who responded to the middle-of-the-night burglar alarm before escaping out the back with some artwork.
Perez-Rodriguez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic but last resided in Patterson, NJ, listened to court testimony through headphones as it was translated by Spanish-language translators.
The defense rested late Thursday morning after four days of testimony. Closing arguments began after lunch. Yatron gave the jury its instructions about 3:30 pm, and the jury began deliberating around 4:30 pm, rendering a verdict at 5:30 pm
Perez-Rodriguez has been in custody since his arrest by Reading police on July 16, 2020 — the day before Fink’s body was discovered in the woods behind his home — for driving a stolen vehicle filled with items belonging to Fink.
About 7:40 pm on July 16, a Reading police officer was following an SUV with a Minnesota license plate going west in the 500 block of Washington Street. He noticed the last number on the plate appeared to have been altered. The officer ran the registration plate and discovered the vehicle was reported stolen out of New Jersey.
Perez-Rodriguez stopped the SUV in the 100 block of North Third Street before the officer even tried to pull him over and got out, but was ordered to the ground at gunpoint.
While Perez-Rodriguez was handcuffed, officers searched the SUV and found three knives, two handguns, a hunting rifle and a semi-automatic shotgun.
A military-issue bag was found in the cargo area behind the rear seat. In the bag was a shipping envelope with Fink’s mailing address and three bank cards belonging to Fink.
Criminal Investigators Eric Sweitzer and David Lehman went to Fink’s home about 10 pm to ask Fink if he knew why Perez-Rodriguez had his property.
They knocked and shined flashlights inside. No no one answered, although it appeared someone was home because there were lights on inside and the garage door was slightly raised, revealing a car inside.
Sweitzer and other members of the city police department returned to the home the next day and noticed the recycling can was still at the end of the driveway and that someone had taken Sweitzer’s business card that had been wedged between the door jam and the door.
As police prepared to force their way in, they found an unlocked rear door off the patio and went inside. They found the home ransacked, which gave them probable cause to obtain a search warrant.
Addressing the jury in his closing arguments Thursday afternoon, Perez-Rodriguez’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Adam Bompadre, acknowledged his client broke into Fink’s home and had Fink’s personal property.
But Bombadre argued the prosecution provided no evidence that Perez-Rodriguez was in the home at the same time as Fink, or was ever near the victim. He pointed out Fink’s body was found 96 feet from the victim’s home in a wooded area.
He called into question a key part of the prosecution timeline, arguing there was insufficient testimony by the pathologist who estimated the time of death.
Bombadre accused the prosecution of having tunnel vision after Reading police stopped a stolen vehicle that contained the weapons and personal belongings and identification documents of a 76-year-old Bern Township man, who turned out to be a victim of a murder.
While his client would naturally be considered a suspect, it doesn’t mean he killed Fink, Bombadre said.
“They had their guy from the get-go, from the very start of it,” Bombadre said. “That’s why they didn’t look for anybody else.”
Assistant District Attorney Charles Prutzman told the jury that the lack of an identified murder weapon was of little consequence given the plethora of evidence that included a recorded phone conversation from Berks County Prison between Perez-Rodriguez and his mother in which the defendant admitted to killing a war veteran.
Cell tower pings from the defendant’s phone placed him in Fink’s home for six hours, evidence corroborated by several neighbors, Prutzman said.
During this time, the defendant was taking items from the home, including those of sentimental value to Fink but of little economic value, such as a high school yearbook and a 1994 address book, and putting them into the stolen Honda CRV that was parked in the driveway, Prutzman said.
Perez-Rodriguez was wearing Fink’s Wyomissing High School class ring and 1966 Air Force Academy ring when he was arrested.
“There’s something so unnerving about seeing Mr. Fink’s jewelry on this man’s hand,” Prutzman said.
It’s a red herring, he said, for the defense to suggest someone else killed Fink on his property as Perez-Rodriguez was systematically ransacking the house.
Prutzman urged the jury to convict Perez-Rodriguez of first-degree murder, saying the killing was clearly intentional and premediated, given that Fink was stabbed six times during what appeared to be a prolonged struggle.
The defendant entered the home, most likely wielding a knife in case he needed it, and could have fled once he met resistance, he argued.
“While a lot of murder cases are tragic, this is about as cruel and purposeless as any case you’re going to find,” the prosecutor said.
Aside from a translator, the benches for the courtroom observers were empty on the defense side of the aisle as the defense presented its case Thursday.
On the opposite side, about a half-dozen loved ones of Fink, including his son, Michael and his wife, who traveled from Michigan, and Dennis Fink’s brother, Greg, followed the dates.
Michael Fink said his father shared a special bond with his grandson, William, who will graduate next week from the University of Michigan with a degree in aerospace engineering. The young man is also learning to fly.
William’s grandfather was excited about having another pilot in the family and insisted on paying for half of his flying lessons, Michael Fink said in his impact statement.
Fink said his father never talked about his war experience and the son didn’t find out until after his father’s death that he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He receive the medal for his actions on Oct. 2, 1968, in breaking an attack against an Army unit critically short on ammunition and pinned down on three sides by enemy forces.
“Despite an extremely low ceiling and intense ground fire, Lieutenant Fink, my father, courageously brought his jet in on low passes to deliver his munitions with expert marksmanship,” Michael Fink said. “He was credited with rooting the aggressors and undoubtedly preventing the US troops from being annihilated.
“I’ll never be able to ask him about that now. He will never have the opportunity to share the details of that story with his son, his grandson or his brother.”
Perez-Rodriguez addressed the judge after the victim statement.
Speaking in Spanish, he said: “I would like to apologize to the family of Mr. Dennis Fink. What happened was a mistake and somebody has to pay in a sentence, and I will pay day by day.”
After the hearing, Michael Fink said he was mostly glad Perez-Rodriguez will never be free to harm anyone else. He said he is extremely grateful for the amount of resources the district attorney’s office and prosecutors devoted to solve the case and bring justice to his family.