Trial and Tribulations, Part Two

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

Some days she'd break down and get high. It wasn't enough to just "change playgrounds and change playmates." She'd hidden her fears behind the mask of drugs so long that she didn't know how to look at the world without it. But then she'd think of Anita and the people at the DA's office who treated her with respect, and little by little, she weaned herself from the drug.

Through the shelter, Cordova got a job with a temporary-services agency. Her life was coming together.

Still, as the trial approached, Joanne began having second thoughts about testifying. Her friend Jimmy was on her about it being her "civic duty," and while she wanted to, she told him, she was worried about the reaction on the streets. Street people simply didn't work with cops, and that was that. Someone who got labeled a snitch didn't live long.

She decided she needed to ask that street world for permission. "If he killed your sister, I'd testify for her," she pleaded to drug dealers and pimps and gangsters. "He killed my friend, and I need to be there."

Hard men, who wouldn't hesitate to kill to protect their turf or themselves, replied, "Do what you need to do." So long as that was all she did, they warned.

Joanne had told those men that she needed to testify for Anita Paley. But when it came right down to it, she took a taxi to the Jefferson County courthouse on October 15 for one person. Joanne.

Joanne Cordova took her seat on the witness stand, smiled briefly at the jury and turned expectantly to Easter, who would be asking the questions for the prosecution.

"Did you know Anita Paley?" Easter asked.
"Yes, I did."
"How long?"
"I would say not more than a couple of months."
"Could you describe her?"

"She was a petite white woman with blonde hair, approximately shoulder length, and she had light-colored eyes," Cordova replied. "She was about 5-2, muscular but still petite."

As she answered each question, Cordova remembered to turn and address the jury, making eye contact. Just like I was taught at the academy.

"In the week that ended with her death, did you meet a man that you spent some period of time with?" Easter asked.

"Yes, I did. His name was Bob."
"Can you describe him, please?"
"He's in the courtroom."
"All right, if you would just point him out."

Cordova turned and looked at Riggan for the first time that day. He sat with his head down, staring at his feet. "He's the gentleman sitting at the defense table," she said, pointing.

Cordova described meeting Bob and his "wife" Debbie, and how he'd gotten her attention the next day by honking. "He said he was looking for me. I was kind of taken aback. I didn't realize that anybody had an interest in me like that. So when I asked him why he had been looking for me, he said that he had bought me some clothes. He asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him that I wanted...that I wanted to do some drugs."

"And what kind of drugs did you want to do?" Easter asked.
"I wanted to do crack cocaine."
"Okay," Easter nodded. "And how would you describe your relationship with cocaine in May of 1997?"

"I was an addict."
"Do you remember the next day?"
"I believe we went to the mountains...to Bob's favorite place in the whole world."

"How do you know that?"
"He told me. We went to a place, it was an old abandoned cabin...When we got there, Bob opened a Corona. I sipped on that and fell asleep."

"Did he stay with you?" Easter asked.
"No he did not," Cordova answered. "I don't know at what point he left, but I woke up and I was alone."

"Did you stay and wait?"
"No, I got scared being up there in the mountains alone, not even knowing where I was. So I walked back to see if the van was there."

When Riggan reappeared, she testified, she asked him, "Why did you leave me? And he became angry that I had asked him...that I had questioned his whereabouts...I felt uncomfortable, so I told him that I needed drugs, and then we left."

"And was it ever your plan that you would have sexual intercourse in that clearing?" Easter asked.

Cordova felt herself blushing. She forced herself to look at the jury. "I never discussed it and I wouldn't," Cordova replied evenly. "He said, 'Before we go back, can we do this?' I just wanted to get it over with. I just wanted to get back to Denver. I did have sexual intercourse with him in the van."

She wanted to explain the fear she'd felt, that she'd thought Riggan had watched her from the woods. But Easter didn't ask about that. Instead, she asked, "Did he remove his clothing?"

Cordova knew that Easter wasn't trying to humiliate her, but she felt shame just the same. "No, he did not...He was on his knees, and he said that he just wanted to have sex doggie-style, and he just kind of pulled his pants down...I turned over, and that was it. He didn't take off any other clothes."

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