Defense's Closing: This Was No Murder
Final arguments present case as a tragic accident or a near-perfect murder
In closing arguments Tuesday, the defense attorney for a man charged in the May 2008 drowning death of his wife described the event as "an accident with tragic consequences" — while Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood said it was “almost a perfect murder.”
The jury is expected to begin deliberations in the trial of Kleber Cordova Wednesday, following instructions from Superior Court Judge David Ironson.
Morristown resident Cordova, 32, is accused of murdering his wife, Eliana Torres, as well as child endangerment, witness tampering, tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension. He has pleaded not guilty.
While defense attorney Jessica Moses said Cordova’s actions on the morning his wife drowned were the actions of a man angry that his wife wanted a divorce, and then panicky after she fell into a bathtub filling with water, Calderwood said Cordova was calm an calculating as he allegedly drowned Torres, and then covered it up.
Moses said the state did not prove its case for murder, arguing instead that a passion provocation manslaughter conviction would be more fitting in this case.
Calderwood said that passion provocation manslaughter was not the appropriate choice because Cordova had known for at least a week that his wife had wanted a divorce. While Torres said she was leaving that day, and that announcement resulted in a fight, the level of anger in that moment did not rise to the level required to trigger the passion provocation defense, Calderwood said.
Moses argued that Cordova was upset that his wife told him that morning that she wanted a divorce. He hit Torres, Moses said, and she pushed him back. A brief fight took place and Torres fell into the bathtub where water was running, the defense maintained.
Moses said Cordova tried to lift Torres from the tub but she was thrashing about and he could not do it.
Moses said Kelly Cordova, their daughter, who was then 8 years old, gave a clear picture of what she saw when she described her father “trying to help her mother up."
“She was articulate about that she saw,” Moses said, and the “evidence clearly supported the girl’s testimony.”
For example, Moses asked, “why was the bathroom door open?”
The incident took place at a time in the morning when Cordova was returning from one job and preparing to go to another, his wife was preparing for her work day and their daughter was getting ready for school.
“If you trying to kill someone, isn’t it logical that you would close the door?” Moses asked.
Moses said that scratches on Cordova’s back showed that Torres had struck him during the fight, and the lack of bruises on her chest indicated that Cordova was not holding her down in the bathtub, but instead, was trying to help her out.
Moses said that Cordova’s action to take off his wife’s clothes and hide them in their van parked in the driveway, was wrong, but was part of the panic that Cordova felt when the police began to ask question about the incident. Moses said Cordova began to think that the police suspected he had something to do with her death.
In 2012, in video testimony played for the jury, Kelly Cordova gave testimony that supported the prosecution’s view of the case.
Moses suggested that differences between the testimony Kelly Cordova gave in 2008 and 2012 were influenced by an offer on the part of the state to help the girl’s family get a visa for the child, who is an Ecuadorian national.
Moses also said the just should be suspicious of the testimony given by Torres’ sister, Zaida Solis, regarding the use of funds in Cordova’s bank account and that of her brother, Omar Solis, who has testified that on the Saturday following the incident, Cordova told him not to tell police about the clothes in the van. She said there was some “creative testimony” presented to the jury.
“The state made a big deal of the clothes,” Moses said.
Zaida Solis testified that Cordova told her she could transfer funds from his account to help take care of his daughters, but Moses said that she testified that the money came from an bank account belonging to Kleber Cordova.
Moses said this this was not a murder case.
If Cordova had planned to murder his wife, she said, why did he call 9-1-1 and stay at the home when police arrived? Why didn't he simply just flee? He had the means and as an Ecuadorian citizen, had a place to go.
“You don’t call 9-1-1 if your intent is to kill,” she said.
Calderwood was blunt in her summation.
“If you want to get her out of the tub, you get out of the tub,” she said.
She supplied several answers to the question: What do you do when your wife falls into the bathtub?
“You turn off the water, you drain the tub, you call for help, you ask your daughter to call 9-1-1, you send someone to tell a neighbor. But you don’t tell you daughter that everything is okay,” Calderwood said.
The assistant prosecutor said that Cordova’s action that morning were not those of a man trying to save his wife after she fell into the tub.
Cordova removed her clothes, dried himself off, got dressed, told his daughter than everything was all right, and called someone else before he called 9-1-1 to report the incident, Calderwood said.
“For 10 minutes he did not take her out of the tub,” Calderwood said. “For 10 minutes would guarantee that she was going to die.”
Calderwood said that while it seemed that Kelly Cordova gave differing testimony this year than she gave in 2008, the girl was actually consistent in her statements.
Further, she said, Moses’ contention that the state had influenced her testimony by offering to assist in her family’s efforts to secure a visa, was false.
The family has started that effort before Kelly Cordova gave the taped testimony the jury heard, Calderwood said. Besides, under federal law, the girl was entitled to that visa, and the prosecutor’s office was fulfilling its obligation to supply a supporting statement, Calderwood said.
In 2008, the girl’s testimony was that of an 8-year old who has seen her father kill her mother, Calderwood said.
As a young child she described to police the incidents in a way that made sense to her. As a 12-year-old, Calderwood said, details were more clear and her ability to understand what she saw was stronger.
"She said, ‘in my mind I knew what happened,’" Calderwood said. As a 12-year-old she was better able to describe what was in her mind, Calderwood said, which was that she had witnessed her father kill her mother.