Defendant in slaying takes stand

Joel Cordova testifies Thursday in his trial for the slaying of 19-year-old Victor Estrada. Cordova is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence stemming from the July 26 incident. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis man accused of stabbing to death an acquaintance last year took the witness stand Thursday in his defense.

Joel Cordova, 25, is accused of killing Victor Estrada, 19, on July 26 at 201 Pinon St., and later disposing of the weapon, a steak knife. What the prosecution has characterized as the deliberate killing of Estrada, the defendant called self-defense.

Cordova is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. He faces a maximum sentence of more than 30 years if convicted of the charges.

Prosecutors have argued that Cordova was angry at Jesse and Victor Estrada for disrespect shown toward he and his girlfriend, adding that he woke up the morning of the slaying “on a mission.” Cordova offered a distinctly different version of the altercation during his testimony before a crowded courtroom.

He said the Estrada brothers sought him out looking for a fight, and that he was afraid they were going to assault him if he didn’t protect himself.

“I went to get my son, … and that’s when they jumped out and came at me,” he said during the third day of the trial at the Curry County Courthouse. “I pulled out the knife … and (Victor Estrada) was still coming at me, and he went into the knife.”

Cordova called Estrada’s death unintentional, maintaining he was protecting his family. He testified the brothers had a 9 mm pistol in the car, a fact disputed by Jesse Estrada and the prosecution.

However, prosecutors say actions taken by Cordova immediately following the stabbing show he was trying to evade the law.

Cordova admitted to throwing the knife out of a car and traveling to a relative’s house to hide out. However, he said fear prompted his flight.

“I wasn’t running from the law, I was just trying to find a safe place where (the Estrada brothers) didn’t know where I was at,” he said.

In cross examination, District Attorney Matthew Chandler questioned the motivation for Cordova’s statements.

“It would be important to you to say you’ve seen a gun,” Chandler said. “If this was such an accident, why were you lying to the police? Why were you telling other people to lie to the police?”

Cordova responded to these and similar questions by stating, “I was scared.”

Prosecutors ended their case with testimony from Detective David Loera, who questioned Cordova the afternoon of the killing.

Chandler sought to show discrepancies between statements Cordova made that day and his testimony Thursday.

After the questioning at the police department — and after Cordova admitted to the stabbing — Loera told him Victor Estrada had died. According to court testimony, Cordova hung his head and began crying.

Loera testified Cordova never mentioned anything about self-defense until after being advised Estrada had died.

The defense also rested its case Thursday.

Closing arguments are expected today.