Original Sin

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Lisa Mirabal was called to testify, and she denied having an affair with her brother-in-law. But prosecutors brought forth witnesses to make a circumstantial case proving otherwise. Among the witnesses was a neighbor of Marcus and Lisa Mirabal, who said he'd seen Matthew entering his brother's apartment on numerous occasions when Marcus was at work.

Boulder District Court Judge Dan Hale found enough evidence to bind Matthew over for trial, though he did lower Matthew's bond from $1 million to $750,000. The change made little difference to Matthew's friends and family, who are not wealthy, and he remained in jail until his trial, which was set for June 2000.

With the trial pending, Enselma and Matthew's mother, Patricia, tried to remain on good terms for the sake of their infant granddaughter. The two women shared custody of Mikela, shuttling her between their homes in Chamisal. And though Patricia remained close with members of Matthew's church, Enselma did not. If anything, her bitterness toward the Hancocks and others increased exponentially.

She and Ainsworth became allies. And because church members were no longer speaking with the police, Enselma's version of events became the only one detectives knew and advanced.

Matthew's June trial held few surprises. Prosecutors brought out the DNA evidence, the insurance policy, the scratches on the car. And though they presented testimony implying that Matthew and Lisa were romantically involved, they did not put Lisa on the stand.

Why Matthew would strangle his wife and then cut off her head was never explained, although Ainsworth says he believes that Matthew decapitated Natalie simply to throw detectives off his scent. After all, what kind of man would behead his wife?

Matthew's attorney tried vainly to suggest that carjackers had kidnapped and killed Natalie. He also said Matthew's blood was on the gloves because he'd cut himself at work while wearing them.

The jury didn't buy the defense's arguments. After deliberating four days, weighing the possibilities of first- or second-degree murder, they found Matthew guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life without chance of parole. His formal sentencing was slated for September.

The relationship between Natalie's family, Matthew's family and the church disintegrated completely over the summer as the two grandmothers waged a battle to gain sole custody of Mikela.

"They made life hell for us," Enselma says of Patricia Mirabal and members of Matthew's church. (Patricia does not belong to Matthew's church or to the Apostolic faith.) "They said that I was abusing [Mikela], abandoning her and selling drugs. We were under social services questioning for a long time.

"I told Patricia that my hope was that we could work together. Why act like this when we could raise her together in peace? I was willing to work things out, but the Hancocks wanted the power because Janet wanted Mikela."

(Janet Hancock says that although she would "like to be a part" of Mikela's life, she has no desire to act as Mikela's mother. She has three sons of her own.)

Enselma's attorney subpoenaed Ainsworth and asked him to testify on her behalf at the custody hearing. The Hancocks went, too, hoping to testify for Patricia Mirabal, but they say they were not allowed in the courtroom.

Ainsworth says he wanted to testify because he was concerned about "undue influence" on the girl by the church.

"Troy and Janet wanted that baby," he says. "I don't think [Patricia Mirabal] wants the baby. If she stayed in the Mirabal family, Troy and Janet would raise her. Janet wanted a little girl. She always said she wanted a little girl. And they hate the Vasquez family.

"I think it wouldn't have ended there," he says. "I think [if Patricia was granted custody], there would be problems with visitation, etc. It wouldn't end there."

Enselma was granted full custody of her granddaughter. Patricia was given limited visitation rights. And Enselma obtained an order to keep everyone in Matthew's church -- with the exception of Marcus and Lisa Mirabal -- from having any contact with the baby.

At Matthew's September 7 sentencing, the sides were clearly divided and clearly defined.

On one side of the courtroom sat the Vasquez family. Thirty-five of Natalie's relatives, most of them clad in T-shirts adorned with Natalie's picture, sat on the left. On the right sat the Mirabal family, the Hancocks and members of Matthew's church.

The tension was palpable. And when Natalie's relatives were given the chance to address the court and confront Matthew, they jeered and taunted him and made pointed remarks about his church.

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Karen Bowers