A Santa Fe jury convicted Juan de Dios Cordova of vehicular homicide Thursday in state District Court.
Cordova, 57, was accused of driving his 1972 Dodge pickup head-on into a group of motorcyclists on N.M. 76 over Memorial Day weekend in 2011 near the town of Cordova in Rio Arriba County. At the head of the four bikes was Mark Wolfe, 51, who was killed, and his wife, Deborah Hill, who was one of three people injured in the crash.
Hill was the first to testify in Cordova’s six-day trial on charges of vehicular homicide and four counts of great bodily injury by vehicle. After the verdict finding him guilty of all charges, Hill said, “It’s sadness mixed with joy, just knowing that justice was done for Mark.”
Hill, who was married to Wolfe for four years, suffered a shattered elbow, two hip fractures, two broken bones in her left leg, and a broken ankle. She also underwent three surgeries and said she suffered a subdural hematoma. Wolfe died from his injuries at Española Hospital.
Cordova was arrested the night of the crash at his Cordova house. Almost four hours after the accident, his blood alcohol level was 0.14 — nearly double the legal limit. Rio Arriba County sheriff’s deputies found Cordova intoxicated and hardly able to walk, according to testimony. The keys to his truck were in his jacket pocket.
In his closing argument Thursday, Assistant Public Defender Damian Horne attempted to remind the jury of what he thought were enormous holes in the state’s case against Cordova. “The state’s case doesn’t even get to reasonable doubt. The state’s case acquits Mr. Cordova,” Horne told the jury.
In order to convict Cordova on all counts, the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was driving and caused Wolfe’s death.
Horne pointed out that Cordova’s truck — “the main piece of evidence — was destroyed before trial, Wolfe’s motorcycle was unaccounted for, the passengers in Cordova’s truck testified in court that they might have been driving, and there were two Rio Arriba County sheriff’s police reports allegedly falsified.”
Sheriff’s deputies, state police officers and witnesses presented conflicting evidence.
“The easiest evidence for the state to change — the report — they did,” Horne told the court. “The easiest evidence for them to destroy — the truck — they did.”
During opening arguments, Assistant Public Defender Ian Loyd laid out Cordova’s claim that his arrest was part of an elaborate scheme by Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella. Loyd told the jury that in 1992, when Rodella was a state police officer, Rodella pulled Cordova over for a traffic stop and beat him, shattering Cordova’s ankle.
Cordova sued the state over the incident and received a settlement check. Loyd told the jury that Cordova’s arrest for vehicular homicide was a way for Rodella to settle a long-standing grudge.
Rodella was subpoenaed to testify as a defense witness but was dismissed early Thursday morning — the first day of the defense’s case. Horne said his testimony was “unnecessary.”
Rodella was present for the verdict but declined to comment to The New Mexican.
The defense didn’t call any witnesses and rested its case Thursday morning.
Deputy District Attorney Juan Valencia told the jury to “look for the truth” and to “find the facts.”
District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco said her office pursued the charges against Cordova, despite the apparent missteps in the investigation, because “a man was killed, a woman was badly injured and others were injured. That’s why we stuck with this case.”
Steven Manzer, one of the motorcyclists riding behind Wolfe, consoled Hill as she spoke with reporters after the verdict. “The levy is broken and everything is coming out,” she said. “It has been a long time to hold things in for my husband.”
State District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer did not set a sentencing hearing Thursday, but Cordova faces up to nine years in prison.
Contact Nico Roesler at 986-3089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nicoroesler.