Three relatives of accused murderer Kleber Cordova took the stand on Tuesday. Two wept, while one smiled.
Omar Solis and Rita Valverde–brother and mother of Eliana Torres, who Cordova is accused of drowning in their Western Avenue apartment bathtub in May 2008–appeared visibly shaken and were given tissues during their testimony. But when K.C., Cordova's now 12-year-old daughter, took the stand during a non-juried portion of the proceedings, she smiled to her relatives in the audience, never once looking in the direction of her father.
'She's Under Water'
Also among witnesses to testify Tuesday were Michael Andrisano, the first Morristown Police officer to arrive following Cordova's breathless, almost-whispered call to 9-1-1 to report that his wife was dead.
Andrisano, a 14-year veteran with the , recalled entering the tiny bathroom in Cordova's apartment and seeing Torres lying submerged in the tub, staring up. "I yelled 'she's under water'" as he began pulling her limp, naked body from the tub, the officer said.
Officer Bruce Summers had arrived moments after Andrisano, and the two grabbed Torres and brought her out to the kitchen, where they began drying her off and attaching a defibrilator in order to retrieve a pulse, Andrisano told the jury.
Once Andrisano was able to speak with Cordova about what happened, Cordova told the officer he had just come home from work at and, upon entering the bathroom, saw his wife in the tub while the shower head sprayed water on her.
Later, Andrisano said, Cordova said it had been the tub spout that was on, while water poured directly into Torres' mouth.
"I'm being told two different statements. It's suspicious," Andrisano said.
Despite Cordova having said he had not gotten his wife out from the water because he was panicked and she was heavy, Andrisano said he alone had no trouble getting Torres at least partially out. And, with assistance from Officer Summers, the two were able to remove her from the tub, Andrisano said.
Later, Valverde described her daughter as having been about 4-foot-11, 125 pounds around the time of the incident.
'The Van is Not Ours'
As Omar Solis told the jury that upon his sister might be dead, he had ran from his then-home on Mount Kemble Avenue to Western Avenue, only to be stopped at the front door by police, he began to tear up.
That was when, Solis said, Cordova told him in Spanish, "'tell the police the van is not ours.'" He had no idea why his brother-in-law made that statement, he said.
"You didn't do anything on that day about that," Public Defender Jessica Moses said to Solis. Later, Moses noted an officer asked Solis some questions. "And, you don't say 'Kleber said something about the car.'"
On May 12, three days after Cordova calls 9-1-1, Omar and his sister, Zaida, give a taped statement to several Morristown Police officers. Moses noted they did not say anything about Cordova's comment about the van then, either.
It's not until January 2012 that anything about the comment is revealed, Moses said.
When asked by Calderwood what he thought Cordova meant by the comment, Solis said he wasn't sure, speculating it may have had something to do with Cordova not having certain papers.
"I was just concerned about my sister's health," Solis said. "We thought it was an accident. We didn't think he would do something to my sister."
Calderwood said Solis had described Cordova to Officer Anthony Mauceri as "an angel." Solis began to sob, looking toward his sister, Claribel, who was in the audience before stepping down.
'Don't Tell Anyone Anything of What You Saw'
A second statement claimed to have been said by Cordova, to his then-eight-year-old daughter, prompted an unscheduled non-juried session.
Moses argued that Valverde had given a statement to then-Morristown Police Detective David Frisk on July 23, 2008, that indicates she had received second-hand information on what K.C. claimed her father said to her in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit.
Through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Valverde said Cordova knelt down, took his daughter's hands and said, "'Don't tell anyone anything of what you saw.'" It was K.C. that has said was witness to what prosecutors are arguing was Cordova in the act of murdering Eliana Torres.
According to transcripts from the conversation, Moses claimed Valverde asked K.C. what Cordova had said to her, intimating she herself had not heard it directly.
"I saw him, I heard him, the child was next to me," Valverde said. Superior County Judge David Ironson later allowed the testimony to be admissable before the jury.
But, before the jury could return to the courtroom after a one-hour delay, the State asked Cordova's daughter to take the stand.
Almost four years after her mother died, K.C. appeared a bubbly, smiling tween, now living in Orlando, FL, with her younger sister and their grandmother, Rita Valverde.
On the witness stand, K.C. repeated in English what her grandmother had said in Spanish only a short time before.
"He said not to tell anybody what I saw," she said.
Calderwood walked up to the witness stand and asked K.C. to show her and everyone what Cordova did when he said those words. The child held both the attorney's hands. "He looked me in the eyes and told me not to tell anyone what I saw," K.C. said.
When she sat back down at the witness stand, K.C. looked to her relatives in the audience and smiled. She looked to the judge. She did not look once in the direction of her father.
Kleber Cordova's shoulders shook as he quietly sobbed.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Morris County Courthouse. Cordova's daughter is expected to testify before the jury.