Trial and Tribulations

As a cop, she fantasized about testifying against a killer. As a hooker, she got her chance.

During her 22 weeks of training there, Joanne passed a battery of other tests--academic, physical, psychological. She never thought that the one test she didn't take would turn out to be a problem.

Joanne liked being a cop, but it wasn't easy being a female on the force. Not only did she get less respect from the criminals on the street than her male counterparts did, but she got less from many of the men she worked with. While she had several good partners, she thought of others as "slugs" and the "epitome of the jelly-doughnut cop," officers who showed little initiative. They didn't appreciate her gung-ho nature.

Still, Cordova was commended for her initiative and was soon receiving outstanding performance reviews. But among her less enthusiastic colleagues, she also earned a reputation of being "difficult" to work with. She ignored them and tried to go about her work as she believed it should be done.

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Joanne believed she would easily make detective someday--but her goals were much more lofty than that. She wanted to make lieutenant, then captain. She looked up to other female officers, especially Lieutenant Miriam Reed, an intelligent, dedicated officer who everyone thought had a shot at becoming Denver's first female chief of police. If not, Cordova fantasized, maybe I will.

She wasn't interested in small-time crimes. Although her patrol area included Colfax Avenue, she ignored the women who stood on the corners there, hopping into cars for short, frantic assignations. She knew that most of those women were drug addicts who lived from one trick to the next, just getting enough money to stay high.

Cordova wanted to catch the robbers and the burglars and the rapists. She dreamed of catching a killer and testifying at his trial, seeing that justice was done.

Her instructors at the police academy had taught her how to present herself in court. Listen politely to the attorneys, but address your answers to the jury. Make good eye contact...jurors believe witnesses who look them in the eyes. And whatever you do, don't let the defense attorneys get under your skin.

Finally, she got her chance to put a murderer away--even if the crime wasn't exactly a whodunit. A man called the police dispatcher to say he'd shot his wife in the head.

Cordova and her partner were the first to arrive on the scene. The man hadn't lied: His wife lay in a pool of blood in the middle of the living room. But Cordova knew that many cases were thrown out of court or lost at trial because of sloppy police work, and she was determined to do this by the book.

"She was yelling at me," the shooter said as Cordova strained to catch every word. "I picked up a beer can and took a drink. Then I picked up a gun and told her, 'I'm going to shoot you if you don't shut up.'" But his wife kept yelling, and so he'd pulled the trigger.

Joanne remembered what he said and wrote it down verbatim.
Months later, she went to court and testified as she had practiced. Word for word, she recounted the defendant's statement.

The cross-examination wasn't as dramatic as she'd envisioned; the defense version of events was that the gun had gone off accidentally. But Cordova recounted what the defendant had said and stuck to it.

The man was convicted. It was the proudest moment of Cordova's career.

Life was good for Joanne Cordova. She was a decent cop. She was still in love with Leuthauser. And she was also part owner, or so she thought, of a company that allowed her to buy nice things--a Corvette, a Bronco II, a home with a $1,000-a-month mortgage. The moonlighting business was going well, even though new Denver mayor Federico Pena had promoted Tom Coogan to police chief. Coogan had declined to grant Leuthauser hundreds of hours of overtime--some from the Associated Grocers investigation--and had also transferred him from the detective bureau into a substation as a night patrol supervisor.

As Joanne became more secure professionally and personally, she grew tired of Leuthauser controlling everything she did in her private life. She also found that he was not only cheating on his wife, he was cheating on her. And in 1985, two and a half years after their affair began, Joanne called it quits.

Leuthauser did not take it well. She would later claim that he told her, "I made you, I can break you." And that, she believed, was exactly what he proceeded to do.

On July 27, 1985, Joanne's 27th birthday, she got a call from her sergeant saying a Denver Post reporter was asking for her. She returned the reporter's call.

He wanted to know if she was aware that criminal charges of second-degree forgery, criminal impersonation and conspiracy had been filed against Joanne Cordova and her sister, Jeannie. According to the charges, the reporter told her, the Denver Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau was saying that Jeannie Cordova had taken the police entrance exam for Joanne when she was in Mexico, and as a result, Joanne had been "impersonating" a police officer for the past two-plus years.

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