In recent weeks, Richard Darling was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for allegedly killing, dismembering and "filleting" the body of Rey Pesina in an Aurora homeless encampment on Halloween 2015. The sentence would seem to offer some solace to Candace Chamberlain, who was romantically involved with both men before getting caught in the middle of their fatal conflict. But more than two years later, she's still struggling to deal with her memories from that awful day.
"It's not easy," Chamberlain says, her voice quavering with emotion. "I'm still having nightmares about it. I had one the other night. I woke up crying and screaming."
Nonetheless, Chamberlain has decided to publicly tell her story about the case in the hope that doing so will help others to avoid the kind of terror she experienced. She's also provided personal photos of Pesina, supplemented here by images from the crime scene supplied by the 18th Judicial District DA's office, which prosecuted Darling.
Included is a look at the barrel in which Darling attempted to burn Pesina's remains.
"I met Rey at the library a block away from my house in Colorado," Chamberlain recalls. "He ended up moving in with me. We dated for about a year, but then I lost my house." According to her, "My father let it go into foreclosure. I fought for two years to keep it, but in the end, it didn't happen."
Suddenly faced with a housing crisis, Chamberlain and Pesina relocated to Sunland Park, New Mexico, where they moved in with his mother. "We were there for almost a year," she notes. "I got a job working at a medical center. I was happy in New Mexico."
Pesina, however, grew restless. "He wanted to go back to Colorado," Chamberlain says. "I didn't really want to go, but he had work lined up for a welding job. So we went back to Denver" in 2015.
Despite the promise of employment, Chamberlain and Pesina wound up staying in his car upon their arrival in the Denver area. "We would go to the place where they would take you to a job every day, and he would work," she allows. "But then he and I got into a dispute, a disagreement. And I decided to leave."
Chamberlain wound up heading to Bailey, where the father of her nephew's girlfriend lived. But this apparent solution only lasted for about a week or so, leaving Chamberlain, her nephew and his girlfriend in need of shelter again. They found it in Aurora, beneath an overpass that bridged Toll Gate Creek between Interstate 225 and North Potomac Street, where a number of the homeless had formed a small community.
The conditions were primitive, but Chamberlain was quickly accepted by the residents. In her words, "Everything was all good. And that's when I met Richard."
Darling "was living under the bridge," she goes on, "and he was very nice, very well mannered, very respectful. I would never have dreamed he was the way he turned out to be."
He wasn't working at the time, but he did have money, thanks to a Supplemental Security Income check he received on a monthly basis. And while he owned a weapon, Chamberlain says, "I thought it was a pellet gun. He would use it to shoot at rodents. He liked to hunt the rodents down there. It was like a sport, I guess."
Relationships were complicated in the encampment; also living in the area was a woman named Lenora Cole, who identified herself as Darling's wife. But Chamberlain and Darling became an item anyway, and she moved into the small structure he called home. She refers to it as Darling's "cubbyhole."
Shortly thereafter, Chamberlain was walking with her nephew's girlfriend when she spotted Pesina at a gas station. The meeting wasn't as coincidental as it might seem at first blush, Chamberlain maintains: "His brother lived right across the field from where the incident happened. And his best friend, who was almost like a brother to him, lived really close, too."
Pesina gave Chamberlain and her nephew's girlfriend a ride to the parking lot of the Ronald McDonald House at 932 North Potomac Circle, near the overpass, then walked with them to the encampment. But things quickly went sour.
"There was a girl down there named Cinnamon, and Rey was being disrespectful to her," Chamberlain reveals. "I guess he tried to kiss her — I'm not sure. I left to go and charge my phone, and when I got back, Richard said he told Rey to leave."
A couple of days later, on October 30, 2015, Pesina returned to the area, meeting Chamberlain at the Ronald McDonald House parking lot to return some of her belongings. "There weren't any problems" on this occasion, she stresses. "But there were the next day."
About one o'clock in the afternoon on the 31st, Chamberlain remembers, "Rey knocked on Richard's little door and said he was bringing me my jacket, which was in his vehicle — and he was intoxicated. He said he was going back to New Mexico, back to his mom, and wanted to know if I wanted to go with him. I told him no, I wasn't going back with him. After that, he started tugging at my hair and getting obnoxious. Then he walked over to Richard, and from what I understand, he told Richard to throw me out of there. Richard said no, and then Rey assaulted me, and he assaulted Richard."
In the middle of this drama, Chamberlain's son and daughter-in-law, accompanied by the latter's cousin, showed up; they were on their way to a Halloween party and had brought her a plate of food. "I told my son that Rey had assaulted both of us, and Rey and my daughter-in-law got into a verbal confrontation with him. They ended up taking him out to his car; my son said he wanted to make sure Rey left. But Rey threatened to come back and burn the place down. His last words were that he would be back with a gun."
Around 45 minutes later, by Chamberlain's estimate, Pesina showed up again. At the time, Chamberlain was chatting with another resident of the encampment who went by the name of Brother Thomas — "and all of a sudden, Richard got up and started acting unusual. He went out his little cubbyhole door and grabbed what I thought was his pellet gun. I saw him in a crouched position, looked at Brother Thomas and asked, 'What's he doing?' Brother Thomas said, 'I don't know. Maybe he's shooting at rodents.' And he did shoot before he got up and started walking to the Ronald McDonald House."
Joined by Brother Thomas, Chamberlain followed "to see what he was doing. And when we got up to the top of the hill, we found out that Rey was there, laying on the ground. Richard was over him, hitting him with the butt of his gun and yelling, 'I told you not to come back down here, you fucking spic!'"
The scene shocked Chamberlain, who said, "'Stop that! You're going to fucking kill him!' And Richard stopped. Rey was still alive; he was laying on his side, making a moaning sound like he had a bad migraine. I ran down to the cubbyhole to get my phone to call 911 — and my son was there. But Richard said, 'No. No one's calling 911.'"
After hearing this threat and realizing that her own life was in danger, Chamberlain ventured back in Darling's direction and discovered that Pesina's body had been moved toward the water of Toll Gate Creek. "At first, I couldn't see Rey's face, but I could hear him making wheezing noises," she remembers. "Then I saw that he had blood running down his face from both eyes and I started getting hysterical again. That's when Richard told Brother Thomas to take me back to the cubbyhole and proceeded to drag Rey's body down to the water. He said, 'I'm going to clean this up,' because he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in prison."
At that point, Chamberlain's first instinct was to leave — but Brother Thomas strongly advised against it: "When we were walking back, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Whatever you do, please don't try to run — because you're going to make it bad for us and worse for yourself.' And he said, 'I'm just as scared as you are.'"
For this reason, Chamberlain stayed put and hours passed. "That's when Richard dismembered him," she says. "He put Rey's bones in the barrel and started burning them."
By the time Darling returned to the living area, about eight or eight-thirty, "it was dark," Chamberlain continues. "When he went to Brother Thomas's cubbyhole, he was all nice and clean and washed up. But Lenora showed up after that and started yelling about how she was tired of helping him clean up his messes. And then a young black gentleman came running up and screaming that the cops were coming down the hill — and Richard ran like a jackrabbit."
In truth, the police had not yet been alerted — but Chamberlain used this false alarm as an opportunity to race in the opposite direction. Within moments, she called her son at the Halloween party, and after he picked her up and reconnected with her daughter-in-law and the cousin, "I called 911."
Before long, Darling was in custody, beginning his long trek through the judicial system — but Chamberlain's trauma was hardly over.
In an effort to put some distance between her and the slaying, she moved to Arizona, where she was diagnosed with severe depression. "They were supposed to make me an appointment with a doctor, but that never happened," she says. "I got a job at Walgreens, but I was having so much anxiety that I had to quit."
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Eventually, Chamberlain wound up in California with her stepfather and daughters. Right now, she's got another part-time job and is trying to move on with her life in the wake of Darling's sentencing. But doing so has proven difficult.
"What happened was beyond horrific," she says. "All I kept thinking was, 'I'm next.' And even though it helps to have family around me, I sometimes still have panic attacks when I go out in public. I'm dealing with PTSD and depression and a lot of stuff. I really need to go to a doctor, and I'm going to. My victim's advocate worker with the DA's office gave me an application form for victim's compensation, and I'm going to fill it out."
About Darling, she adds, "At least he won't be able to do this to anybody else. And that's a good thing,"
Click to read the original Richard Darling arrest affidavit.