The morning of May 9, 2008, should have been like any other morning for 8-year-old Kelly Cordova.
But, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood said on Monday afternoon, instead of waking up to go to her second grade class at , Kelly Cordova instead woke to something horrific.
Kelly was waking up to find her father, Kleber Cordova, murdering her mother, 25-year-old Eliana Torres.
So began opening statements on March 19 in the trial of Cordova, now 32, who is accused of murder, child endangerment, witness tampering, tampering with evidence and hindering apprehension in the death of his wife in their Western Avenue apartment almost four years ago. He has pleaded not guilty.
The start of the trial has been delayed several times, due to illness and pre-trial challenges filed by Cordova’s public defender Jessica Moses. Superior County Judge David H. Ironson is hearing the case. Calderwood and Assistant Prosecutor Brian DiGiacomo are presenting the state’s case.
The case was subject to pre-trial hearings for nearly two years, as lawyers debated whether Cordova–an Ecuadoran immigrant in the United States illegally, who speaks little to no English–had his Miranda rights violated after he'd confessed to drowning Torres.
In her opening statement on Monday, Calderwood told the jury Cordova had intended to kill his wife after she revealed she had been having an affair, and that she wanted to get a divorce.
"She (Kelly Cordova) heard splashing of water, she saw her mother lying on her back in the tub with her father overhead, holding her down," Calderwood said to the jury of 10 women and five men. In Spanish, the prosecutor told the jury Eliana Torres screamed, "God help me."
Calderwood said Kelly Cordova asked her father what was going on, to which he replied, "Everything's fine. Go back to your room."
"And, she did go back into her room," Calderwood continued. "When she came back out, she peaked in. She saw the tub was so full of water, it was flowing over the sides. She didn't see her mother moving, she saw her floating.
"What Kelly was witnessing was her very own father murdering her mother," Calderwood said.
While paramedics were able to revive Torres that morning, doctors at determined her to be brain dead a few days later.
Calderwood said it was Cordova's own daughter, Kelly Cordova, that exposed his cover up and broke open the case. While Cordova had told police he had come home that morning from a cleaning job at to find Eliana Torres naked and unconscious in the tub, Calderwood said Kelly Cordova told police a different story.
"Her mother was not naked," she said, noting Kelly Cordova had told police she had seen her mother wearing black pants and white socks.
In her statement, Calderwood said Cordova in Spanish told Eliana's brother, Omar Solis, "Don't tell the police the van is ours."
That was because that van in the driveway contained a plastic bag with the soaking wet clothes Eliana Torres had been wearing when Kleber Cordova was drowning her, Calderwood said.
"Kelly will tell you her mother was trying to get out of the tub–he did not let her out," she said. "This is a slow death, one that required a lot of commitment. He was so in control that day, to accomplish his mission, which was to end Eliana's Torres' life."
Moses, representing Cordova, asked the jury to put aside emotion when viewing the case.
"And, make no mistake, this will be emotional," she said. "Ask yourself, what really happened on May 9, 2008?"
Moses said the first problem occurred when Cordova called 9-1-1, and spoke with a dispatcher at the . "The operator says 'I'll send someone right away.' But, she doesn't," Moses said, noting a bilingual employee at the police station instead is asked to call Cordova back.
"There are constant questions being asked," Moses said. "Not until the end of that is help dispatched."
Even less clear, Moses asked, "What went on before that call?"
While the prosecutors presented one version of what Kelly Cordova said she saw, Moses told the jury a videotaped interview between the then-8-year-old and a police officer present a different picture.
"What she says is that she hears her father say, 'calm down, calm down, I'm trying to get you out,'" Moses said to the jury. The attorney said it was not until December 2011, several years after having moved in with Rita Valverde, Eliana's mother, "that her story substantially changes."
Moses also contends that Omar Solis, during multiple interviews, never mentioned anything about being told by Cordova not to tell police the van is theirs. It's not until January 2012 that "Omar has this sudden revelation.
"Pay very close attention to the details of this case," Moses said. "When you sit together and view the documents and recall the testimony, it will lead you to one conclusion: Kleber Cordova is not guilty of murder."
The Kleber Cordova murder trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 20.