Kleber Cordova was found guilty of all charges Wednesday in the 2008 drowning death of his wife, Eliana Torres.
A jury of eight women and four men took approximately two hours to convict the Morristown man of the murder of Torres on May 8, 2008 in their Western Avenue apartment.
Cordova, 32, was also found guilty of child endangerment, witness tampering, tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension. The trial lasted about a month. Superior Court Judge David Ironson said sentencing will take place May 25 in his courtroom.
Cordova showed little emotion as the verdicts were read by the jury forewoman.
Outside the courtroom Torres’ sisters, Clarabella Solis and Zaida Solis, and her mother, Rita Valverde, held one another tightly in a weeping embrace. Their sobs filled the hallway.
“Justice has been served,” Zaida Solis said. “[Eliana] has been cleared.”
Testimony by Zadia Solis that she had transferred funds from Cordova’s bank account to cover expenses for caring for Cordova’s daughters had been challenged by defense attorney Jessica Moses.
Clarabella Solis said the verdict brought “peace of mind” to the family. She said the family will now return to its native Ecuador, for members to get on with their lives.
She said the verdict will being relief to Cordova’s daughter, Kelly Cordova, now living in Florida.
“It will bring her peace of mind. She will no longer have to worry about it,” Solis said.
"I am very happy for the family and the beautiful victim whose life was so horrifically and cowardly taken," Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said. "The issue of domestic violence can never be underestimated, as regrettably murder is often the end result. On behalf of the fine men and women of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, we are proud to have been part of the process to bring justice to this victim and her family.”
Bianchi offered special thanks to Assistant Prosecutors Maggie Calderwood and Brian DiGiacomo.
“They—as did our detective, support, and victim witness staff—worked around the clock to achieve this resounding guilty verdict on all charges," Bianchi said.
The charges of endangering a child related to Kelly Cordova witnessing the crime. The hindering apprehension and tampering with evidence charges are related to Cordova’s act of removing his wife’s clothes and hiding them in the rear of their van, and telling Kelly Cordova and others not to talk to police about the incident.
In , Moses described the event as “an accident with tragic consequences,” while Calderwood said it was “almost a perfect murder.”
While Moses said Cordova’s actions on the morning were the actions of a man angry that his wife wanted a divorce, and then panicky after she fell into a bathtub filling with water, Calderwood said Cordova was calm an calculating as he allegedly drowned Torres, and then covered it up.
Moses had claimed the state did not prove its case for murder, arguing instead that a passion provocation manslaughter conviction would be more fitting in this case.
Calderwood said that passion provocation manslaughter was not the appropriate choice because Cordova had known for at least a week that his wife had wanted a divorce. While Torres said she was leaving the day of her death, and that announcement resulted in a fight, the level of anger in that moment did not rise to the level required to trigger the passion provocation defense, Calderwood said.
Moses said Kelly Cordova, the couple's daughter, who was then 8 years old, gave a clear picture of what she saw when she described her father “trying to help her mother up."
In 2012, in video testimony played for the jury, Kelly Cordova gave testimony that supported the prosecution’s view of the case.
Calderwood disputed Moses’ description of the events.
“If you want to get her out of the tub, you get out of the tub,” she said.
She supplied several answers to the question: What do you do when your wife falls into the bathtub?
“You turn off the water, you drain the tub, you call for help, you ask your daughter to call 9-1-1, you send someone to tell a neighbor. But you don’t tell you daughter that everything is okay,” Calderwood said.
The assistant prosecutor said that Cordova’s actions that morning were not those of a man trying to save his wife after she fell into the tub.
He removed her clothes, dried himself off, got dressed, told his daughter everything was alright, and called someone else before he called 9-1-1 to report the incident.
“For 10 minutes he did not take her out of the tub,” Calderwood said. “For 10 minutes [that] would guarantee that she was going to die.”
Calderwood said that while it seemed that Kelly Cordova gave differing testimony this year than she gave in 2008, the girl was actually consistent in her statements.
As a young child she described to police the incidents in a way that made sense to her, Calderwood said. As a 12-year-old, Calderwood said, details were more clear and her ability to understand what she saw was stronger.
“She said,'in my mind I knew what happened,'" Calderwood said.