The attempted murder trial of a San Miguel man accused of shooting his girlfriend in the neck opened Wednesday morning — despite the alleged victim refusing to testify against him.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office says Jim Pinedo was already facing charges for physically abusing his girlfriend in October 2017 when, enraged that she didn’t do enough to persuade authorities to drop the charges, he picked up a rifle he wasn’t allowed to own and shot her in the neck in an attempt to kill her.
But the alleged victim, Dancene Cordova, who was subpoenaed to testify against her boyfriend, refuses to cooperate in any way and was held in contempt of court hours before jurors were scheduled to hear opening statements.
Cordova, who now faces a potential fine, told The Tribune in July that Pinedo “didn’t do it.” Pinedo’s rifle went off during a struggle when she threatened to shoot herself with it while high on methamphetamine, she said.
Pinedo, 38, faces up to life in prison if convicted of all charges and various sentencing enhancements for the use of a firearm. He has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of attempted murder, assault with a firearm, assault with a deadly weapon, inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, threatening a witness, attempting to dissuade a witness and false imprisonment, as well as a misdemeanor charge of battery.
He previously pleaded no contest to related felony charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and inflicting corporal injury on a spouse, as well as disobeying a restraining order and making criminal threats.
But in a case in which evidence revealed so far arguably could corroborate either version of events, the prosecution faces the difficult task of convincing jurors of Pinedo’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt based largely on Cordova’s past statements.
Hours before the jury was to hear opening statements Tuesday, Cordova — who has not cooperated with prosecutors — told Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy that she refused to answer any questions.
On Wednesday morning, Duffy held Cordova in contempt of court and ordered that she not speak to other witnesses or jurors about the case and barred her from attending the trial. Though Duffy noted that Cordova, as an alleged victim of domestic violence, can not be criminally punished, Deputy District Attorney Megan Baltierra requested a Nov. 16 hearing to discuss possibly fining her.
“She has been held in contempt, and there needs to be an end,” Baltierra said.
The Tribune does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual and domestic abuse, but is making an exception in this case after Cordova gave the newspaper permission and waived confidentiality in open court.
In her opening statement, Baltierra addressed Cordova’s absence, saying that Cordova loves Pinedo and is protecting him.
“The defendant used this misplaced love and emotion to abuse her, threaten her, and ultimately (he) armed himself with a rifle... and shot Ms. Cordova in the neck,” she said.
After coming out of a 10-day medically induced coma, Cordova initially told investigators that Pinedo shot her before ending her cooperation, the prosecutor said.
It wasn’t the first time he abused Cordova, Baltierra added; witnesses can testify to past violent incidents whether Pinedo allegedly punched her in the head, dragged her, and told her he had dug a hole for her body.
Baltierra said she intends to call to the stand a former girlfriend of Pinedo’s who will testify that he was violent, as well as an expert witness who will explain why it is not unusual for victims of domestic violence to return to and even defend their abusers.
“We might not understand this, it might not make sense, but the fact is Ms. Cordova loves him,” Baltierra told jurors. “Ms. Cordova is stuck, stuck in this cycle of violence.”
But Trace Milan, Pinedo’s defense attorney, argued before jurors that the evidence in the case is ambiguous, and that Cordova’s initial statements to detectives after coming out of the coma were partly due to medication she was on and a fear she would get in legal trouble.
Cordova, who jurors were told has a past “felony gun conviction,” had a warrant out for her arrest at the time, according to statements made during pre-trial motions.
“The evidence will show that (the prosecution’s allegations) may be true, or they might be true... and that’s not even close to what the law requires,” Milan said.
He told the jury that the two began dating in an open relationship in 2015, and that the two had a “relationship that involved a lot of screaming at each other,” which was exacerbated by Cordova’s daily intravenous crystal meth habit.
When Pinedo caught Cordova shooting meth on Oct. 2, 2017, he threatened to break up with her, Milan said. That’s when Cordova grabbed Pinedo’s rifle — which he was not allowed to have because of a 2011 felony drug conviction — and threatened to commit suicide, he argued.
It’s unclear who fired the rifle, but the weapon fired a bullet into her neck that traveled into her torso.
“(Pinedo) immediately gets her to a vehicle and into a hospital, and ultimately saved her life,” Milan said.
Cordova previously told The Tribune that the two agreed Pinedo would drop her off at the hospital and flee because a restraining order keeping him from her was still active.
Following opening statements, jurors heard testimony from Deputy District Attorney Ashley Cervera, who read a transcript of Cordova’s testimony at a Pinedo’s December 2017 preliminary hearing.
According to the transcript, Cordova answered every question posed by Baltierra with “I don’t remember.”
Under cross examination by Pinedo’s former attorney, Jay Pederson, however, she testified that Pinedo did not use drugs and did not injure her. She said Pinedo tried to stop her from hurting herself when “the gun went off.”
Testimony is scheduled to resume Thursday.