For 45 minutes on Wednesday, the courtroom looked into a past where an eight-year-old girl said her mother and father were very kind to each other, that they never fight and that while Eliana Torres had been hurt, she was feeling better and soon could tell everyone what had happened earlier that morning of May 9, 2008.
Nearly four years later, K.C., the daughter of accused murderer Kleber Cordova, testified before the jury on what she saw when she walked into the bathroom of her family's 85 Western Ave. apartment to find her father and mother in a filling bathtub.
The testimony from K.C., now 12, took several hours, as the child needed several breaks to compose herself after breaking down on the witness stand.
At first, K.C. kept her composure , when she spoke to attornies in a non-juried section of the proceedings. She smiled to relatives in the audience. She laughed shyly when asked to answer questions with a "yes" or "no" instead of just nodding. K.C. answered questions presented by both Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood and Defense Attorney Jessica Moses about that Friday morning, and what she saw in her family's home.
But, then came her explanation of what happened when everyone had moved over to , after her mother had been admitted.
K.C. said her father was "crawled up," gesturing that he was hugging his knees, in the waiting room. "I asked him what happened, but he kept crying and wouldn't answer me," she told the jury.
Later, K.C. said, Cordova held her hands and told her not to tell anyone what she saw.
That was when K.C.'s thus far stoic wall finally broke down. The 12-year-old girl's head went into her hands, and she cried.
'I Know This is Hard for You'
Following an unscheduled recess, K.C. returned to the stand.
"I know this is hard for you," Moses said. The public defender referred back to K.C.'s taped conversation with a detective later the day of the incident and what the then-eight-year-old said she saw.
"You told her you saw your father trying to lift your mother out of the tub," Moses said. "You told her he said, 'calm down, calm down, I'm trying to get you out.'"
Moses referenced a meeting in August 2011, with Calderwood in attendance. "On that day, you never said anything about [Cordova] holding your mom down," Moses said.
Then, the attorney said, K.C. met with Calderwood, Assistant Prosecutor Brian DiGiacomo and others on Dec. 20, 2011. "They ask if you were telling the truth in May 2008," Moses said. "You say, 'no.'
"What was really happening?"
"He was actually killing her," K.C. said.
Calderwood then stood up again to speak to K.C. on the witness stand.
"Was there a time you didn't think your dad was killing your mom," she asked.
K.C. paused, then began to cry again.
A Long Day
Outside the courtroom during an extended lunch break, Claribel Solis, one of Eliana Torres' sisters, tells DiGiacomo that the choice of words being used during K.C.'s testimony is causing her niece to cry.
Solis, her brother, Eric, their mother, Rita Valverde, and several others are gathered around K.C. in the hallway as they talk.
"It's been a long day," one of the friends said.
Finally, court resumes, and Calderwood again asked–using softened words–why K.C. did not think her father would have harmed her mother.
"He was such a good father to me," K.C. said. "I never thought he would do such a thing."
Calderwood then played the taped interview with K.C. from May 9, 2008.
On the television screen is a colorful room, with walls filled with polka dots and a plush, striped, comfortable-looking chair.
K.C. and a woman enter the room on screen. In the courtroom, Cordova wipes his eyes.
During the 45-minute interview, the eight-year-old K.C. says several times that she didn't know if her mother had fell, and that her father was trying to pick her up out of the tub.
K.C. tells the interviewer in the recording that she heard water splashing. "When I came, my dad was trying to pick her up, because he loves her," the younger K.C. says. "He thought she was dead, but she wasn't.
"She couldn't get up. My dad was trying to get her up," K.C. said. "I think she fell or something, we don't know."
K.C. says in the recording that Cordova could not pick Torres up out of the tub because she was heavy.
"It's not really anybody's fault," she says. "My mom and my dad are very kind to each other. They never fight."
At one point, the younger K.C. makes hand gestures indicating her mother was scratching at Cordova in the bathroom. Then, she says, "I really wonder who did it?"
To do what, the interviewer asks.
"I think that she slipped ... I really think someone told her to do it," K.C. says in the interview.
"I thought they were fighting, but they weren't, because he was trying to get her up. ... Now, she's getting better to talk. Now, she's going to tell us," she says shortly before the interview is concluded.
Back on the witness stand, Calderwood asked K.C. a similar question to one asked four years ago in the taped interview: Do you know the difference between telling a lie and telling the truth?
"Telling the truth is being honest," K.C. said. A lie is, "not being honest."
"Who harmed your mom," Calderwood asked.
"My dad," K.C. said.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28 at the Morris County Courthouse.