Trial and Tribulations, Part Two

This is the conclusion of Joanne Cordova's story. For part one, see www. westword.com.

Still, Sperry had his defenders, particularly the blond juror who felt he was more credible than Galloway. And she reiterated a defense line: Why would a man with Sperry's credentials come all the way to Colorado to testify for the defense if he wasn't sure of the theory that Paley had fallen from the van?

Money, the other jurors said. How many pathologists did the defense have to try their theory out on before they found someone who would agree?

Certainly, the most intriguing of the witnesses had been Joanne Cordova. As they discussed her testimony, they wondered how she had gone from cop to prostitute. She was as articulate as any lawyer in the courtroom. It must have been the drugs, they theorized.

Although the blond juror dismissed Cordova as not being credible, most of the other jurors thought just the opposite. She had come across as trying to be as honest and forthright as she could under very difficult circumstances. When Chambers had hammered at her and tried to humiliate her, she had gained their sympathy--and he'd lost their patience with his eye-rolling and smirks.

Cordova's testimony had been important for several reasons. For starters, it had given the jurors the knife that could have cut Paley--the knife she'd used to make the sandwiches, the knife that wasn't shown at trial because it hadn't been found in Riggan's van.

And she had proved Riggan to be a liar in his statements to the Boulder deputies. For one thing, he'd said he didn't have sex with Joanne. Yet, to her obvious embarrassment, she'd testified that he had.

Paley couldn't testify about Riggan's attitude about sex. But Cordova could talk about how he'd demanded sex and pulled into the first available parking spot. And the jurors recalled the testimony of the former police officer, who'd seen the van in a casino parking lot on the morning Paley was injured. That, most of the jurors thought, was where Paley had tried to escape--and had her skull crushed.

Finally, there were the panties. Cordova had said she'd never worn them or even taken the tags off. The defense had contended that Paley had never worn them, either, because they were too big.

And in the end, that's what did it for Robert Riggan. One of the male jurors had noticed that the panties were frayed on the left side, matching one of the abrasion marks on Anita Paley's legs, and that they were stained. With that, the three jurors who had been holding out for an innocent verdict swung over to guilty.

But only on Count Two, which contended that Riggan killed Paley as part of a sexual assault--cutting her vagina. The three holdouts still would not agree to find him guilty on Count One. For some reason--but not a legally correct one--the blond juror had decided that one count was for the head wound and one was for the vaginal cut, and two of the jurors stuck with her.

As deliberations began, Riggan had insisted to his lawyers that he didn't want the jurors to consider a lesser charge, such as second-degree murder. "Make 'em kill me or nothing," he said as he was led away.

The jury granted his wish.
Although Count One was declared a mistrial, Robert Lee Riggan Jr. will still face a three-judge panel to determine if he will get the death penalty for his conviction on Count Two.

It's Friday, a few days after the verdict, and Joanne Cordova is disappointed that she'll have to go through the weekend without her paycheck. "It wasn't ready," she says. "I wanted to go to a movie. I haven't been to a movie in a long time...sit there with a big box of popcorn..."

Her voice trails off but quickly picks up again. "At least I have a real job, which is a milestone for me," she says. "I haven't had a real job in years."

Trying to make a new life has been like waking from a coma, she says. The trial didn't automatically make everything better, make everything easier. Just as she'd dreamed so many years ago, back when she was a rookie cop, before she was a hooker, she'd testified in a court and helped to convict a killer.

Although justice was served, she doesn't feel like much of a hero. But testifying brought a small amount of redemption for a woman who made a lot of bad decisions.

Some days she's too depressed to get out of bed. She wonders if there was something more she could have done for Anita Paley. Much of what happened to the younger woman she learned only after the trial, like the wound to her vagina, and that still gives her horrors. "I wondered why the defense attorney kept asking me about 'containers,'" she says. "Now I just wish I could have been there for Anita and somehow taken away the pain for her."

Joanne tries to picture herself climbing up a ladder, the same ladder she took to the bottom. If she sometimes needs to stop on a rung and rest for a bit, she figures that's okay...she's got a long way to go.

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