The small town of Covelo in central Mendocino County is nestled in the Round Valley, to the west of the Mendocino National Forest and east of Highway 101, miles inland from the coast. It is located within the Round Valley Indian Reservation of the Pomo Tribe, though the town itself is only 40% Native American. With a population of under 1300, Covelo is known as a home to many artists in a variety of media, including traditional native craftspeople.
This small community was shocked with the Sunday morning discovery of a local young woman, 21-year-old Rosalena Belle Rodriguez, dead from bullet wounds and lying in the road at Hopper Lane in the wooded north part of town. Someone driving through on Sunday at 7:14 am discovered the body and contacted the Sheriff’s office. Detectives responding to the scene identified her as they began their investigation. A forensic autopsy conducted Tuesday confirmed that she had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, while a complete toxicology analysis is still pending.
As part of the homicide investigation, on Wednesday night detectives contacted 28-year-old Covelo resident Nicole Hawkins at a home on Creekside Drive in Willits, 44 miles south. Hawkins has a history of trouble with the law, with at least five arrests going back to 2005, on charges of battery, assault, and vehicle code violations such as DUI, driving with a suspended license, and lack of insurance. When contacted this time, she was arrested on elder abuse charges and probation violations. It is not clear at this time what her connection to the murder of Belle Rodriguez was, but the two were at the least Facebook friends. She may have been out with her Saturday night, as it was reported that Rodriguez had gone out with friends the night of her killing.
Hawkins’ arrest then led to two more later that night. At 1:00 am, back in Covelo, the investigation continued with the detainment of brothers Jeremy Jason Freeman-Britton, 21, and Sidney Lewis Freeman, 23, at Sidney’s home on Yuki Street. Both had outstanding warrants allowing their immediate arrest. Jeremy had an outstanding warrant from neighboring Lake County for criminal threats in an unrelated incident. Sidney had a misdemeanor probation violation warrant from Mendocino County. Once in custody, detectives were able to establish probably cause connecting them to the murder of Rodriguez. The brothers, along with Nicole Hawkins and Belle Rodriguez, are reported to be Native American and tribal members.
As the investigation continued Thursday afternoon, detectives and the District Attorney determined that Jeremy Freeman-Britton was at that point the lone suspect in the murder of Rodriguez, and would only be filing murder charges against him. The investigation continues, and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the tip line at 707-234-2100.
No motive for the killing has been released by investigators. The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has quoted Round Valley tribal member Cora Simmons describing Belle Rodriguez as “sweet but troubled.” She said she grew up poor, with little family support, but did well in high school, even earning valedictorian of her class. Simmons, a relative of Rodriguez, said that her life took a downward turn afterwards, as she was unemployed and abusing alcohol. Records show an arrest in 2010 at 18-years-old for disorderly conduct. A sad but ironic post she made on her Facebook page in October of last year reads “LIVE EVERYDAY AS IT WERE TO BE UR LAST, CUZ U’LL NEVER KNOW WHEN SUMTHIN UNEXPECT WILL OCCUR..”
Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Round Valley tribal member arrested in slaying of Covelo woman