Romauldo Cordoba Jr.’s trial on charges of domestic violence and murder began Monday in Fulton County Common Pleas Court. He claims self-defense in Joshua McJilton’s murder.
McJilton had been drinking and used cocaine when he was fatally wounded in a Wauseon parking lot April 25 while trying to defuse a domestic spat between Cordoba and his estranged wife, according to a report presented in court this week. A toxicology report completed for his autopsy and presented by defense attorney Chris Dreyer revealed that McJilton had a .12 blood alcohol level when he apparently ingested cocaine shortly before being shot twice by Cordoba.
A videotape shown to the jury of the discussion between a Wauseon detective and Cordoba portrays the defendant as frightened of McJilton and remorseful for killing him.
The trial moved briskly Monday and Tuesday, with 20 witnesses taking the stand to describe the crime scene from the perspective of both witnesses and responding law enforcement. The court also heard from the coroner’s office that performed McJilton’s autopsy, an Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations officer, and a forensics expert who testified the fatal shots were fired from a gun found in a golf course pond a month after the murder.
Witnesses included a carload of McJilton’s friends who sat with him in his Toyota Camry in the parking lot shortly before the shooting, which occurred at approximately 1:08 a.m. The group had arrived minutes earlier, intending to visit DB Downtown Billiards, which shares the municipal lot with neighboring businesses. Earlier in the evening the friends had visited another bar in the city, then went to one of their residences to drink beer and play cards and video games.
McJilton, 27, was a former Wauseon resident who moved back to the city from Oceanside, Calif., after separating from his wife. His mother Alana Venia, told the court her son planned to regroup for awhile in his hometown, then move back to California.
His friends individually testified that McJilton–who had asked one of them, Johnny Edwards, to drive the Camry to the billiards hall because McJilton had been drinking–left the car for several minutes to speak with friends he’d noticed in a nearby vehicle. They said after McJilton returned to the Camry the group saw a Ford Escape with its headlights off pull quickly behind and block a parked Buick Enclave occupied by Melinda Cordoba, Romauldo’s estranged wife.
A man later identified as Cordoba, of 2001 S. Defiance St. in Archbold, jumped from the Ford and began yelling and banging on the Enclave’s driver side window with a pistol. His wife repeatedly reversed the Enclave into his vehicle in an attempt to drive off.
Authorities later learned that Cordoba discovered his wife was at DB Downtown Billiards after searching for her vehicle in Fayette, Archbold, and other locations around Fulton County. Cordoba later admitted he looked for her because he suspected she was having an extramarital relationship.
McJilton again left his car, this time approaching Cordoba, who yelled at his wife through the Enclave window. Cordoba, who still held the gun, noticed McJilton, who was unarmed, and fired a warning shot in the air. The friends from both vehicles testified McJilton continued to approach, and the men exchanged words they couldn’t hear. They then heard two or three more gunshots and saw McJilton fall to the ground. They rushed to him as Cordoba fled the scene on foot.
One of the friends, Nathan Whitehead, said McJilton lay moaning and unresponsive to their questions. Bullets had struck him in the right chest and the upper thigh. He was transported to the Fulton County Health Center, where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy performed by the Lucas County Coroner’s Office ruled McJilton’s death due to blood loss caused by one of the bullet’s downward trajectory through his heart, liver, and stomach before it lodged in his small intestine. Coroner James Patrick testified he doesn’t know what effect the combination of alcohol and cocaine may have had on McJilton.
“I can’t speak to what it may have caused in behavior before he was shot,” Patrick told the court.
In the chaos following the shooting, as a crowd of 10 to 20 people gathered from the billiards hall and other nearby venues, police took a shaken and uncooperative Melinda Cordoba to a police car to calm her down. She was driven to the Wauseon police station to give a statement while officers and assisting Fulton County sheriff’s deputies closed off the crime scene.
She told the court she wasn’t very aware of the events that took place around her because she refused to look up at her husband outside her vehicle. “I didn’t want to look at him,” she said.
Among the evidence collected at the scene were five spent .22 caliber cartridges, a live .22 caliber round, and a cell phone found on the front seat of Cordoba’s vehicle. Police also collected DNA swabs from the vehicle, and a shoe print on the right dashboard left by Cordoba’s passenger, who fled the scene before the shooting.
Cordoba was quickly identified as the shooter on an exterior security videotape at DB Downtown Billiards. Wauseon Police Sgt. Jose Gonzales watched the tape and and named the suspect, a friend of his father’s.
“Sgt. Gonzales told me it was definitely Romauldo,” Police Detective Kevin Chittenden testified.
Cordoba’s gun was not recovered, and no cocaine or other drugs were found in McJilton’s vehicle. Beer containers were found in both McJilton’s and Cordoba’s vehicles.
During cross-examination, Dreyer asked each of the friends McJilton had arrived with whether cocaine was present in the car. All said no. One friend, Tyler Deeds, said the group remained in the car after arriving at the parking lot “probably to finish the beers we had.”
Almost one month after the shooting, on May 17, Wauseon Auxiliary Police Officer Jason McQuillin was playing golf at Ironwood Golf Club when he noticed a handgun submerged in a fairway pond. It was sent to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, where it was identified as a semi-automatic .22 caliber pistol. Following testing and comparisons, BCI forensic scientist Kevin Belcik determined that four of the five .22 caliber cartridges found at the McJilton shooting were from bullets fired from the pistol.
Belcik also identified the unfired bullet recovered at the scene as a .22 caliber round.
On Tuesday, Fulton County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Kennedy played for the jury a video segment of the nearly two-hour discussion held June 15 between Cordoba and Chittenden. After a lengthy manhunt, Cordoba had been taken into custody by the U.S. Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force in a casino parking lot in Eagle Pass, Texas, just shy of the Mexican border. He was held in the Maverick County Detention Center before being extradited to Wauseon.
In the video segments, the majority of which frustrated court gallery members with their garbled sound, the defendant rambles incessantly to the detective about the shooting, his family, his troubled marriage, and a suicide attempt. As the tape played in the courtroom, Cordoba sat with his head hung, picking at a tissue in his hands. McJilton family members and supporters watched the video nearby, some sniffling and wiping away tears.
Cordoba can be seen at times in the video gesturing animatedly, and at other times crying. In certain segments he is heard lamenting about his broken relationship with his wife, at one point describing how he attempted to hang himself in front of her.
He breaks down when describing the shooting. Corboda says he didn’t know who McJilton was, and thought, “Oh (expletive)” when he saw the former Marine, who stood five feet, 11 inches tall and weighed 243 pounds, approaching him.
“I seen him coming. I didn’t know who he was,” he says of McJilton. “…He didn’t say what his intention was. He came after me…I was scared. Scared of losing my life. Scared of him. You know, the guy was huge.”
During other bits of conversation, Cordoba accuses McJilton of threatening, “I’m going to shoot you in the eyeball.” He also says it appeared McJilton was attempting to be “a tough guy.”
At another point, Cordoba asks if McJilton was proven drunk at the time he approached. He follows that question, emotionally, with: “No matter if he was drunk, he didn’t deserve to lose his life. Nobody does.”
He continues by saying his intention was never to hurt anyone. “God knows. If nobody else knows, God does,” he says.
Later, Cordoba explains that he doesn’t want to give the impression in court that he’s “bashing” McJilton, “but the fact is, he came after me.”
Closing arguments and the beginning of jury deliberation are scheduled for Thursday.