In December 2016, a jury convicted then 23-year-old Andres Cordova of attempted murder, a crime for which he was later given 43 years to life. According to court records, Mr. Cordova was angry at another man because he was texting Mr. Cordova’s girlfriend at the time.
On August 15, 2016, Mr. Cordova challenged the man to a fight and the man, believing it would be a fistfight, showed up at a designated location and time in the middle of the night in Woodland. When he showed up, a dark colored sedan drove past him and shot at least three times into his car, hitting a tire, and striking the man in the right shoulder and above his right eye. He was rushed to the hospital where he was treated for gunshot wounds.
What the defense and the court would later learn was that the key witness who could establish that Mr. Cordova showed up and shot the other man was the girlfriend, who had an affair with a police officer who was supposed to be investigating her domestic violence complaint from June of 2016.
Witness Describes the Incident to Defense Investigators
Meeting with a defense investigator on February 15, 2017, the girlfriend, whose name as a domestic abuse and potential sexual assault victim the Vanguard is protecting, told investigators that following her incident report Officer Lear Lutrell along with Kyle Konze of the Woodland Police Department responded.
“Officer Luttrell took my statement and gave me a ride from Andres’ house to my apartment. Before leaving, Officer Luttrell gave me his cell number and said I could call him if anything else were to happen. Andres had left before the officer arrived,” Public Defender Investigator Sandra Gordon writes in her notes.
Officer Luttrell would return to bring some paperwork for a restraining order and then messaged her, “saying he wanted to make sure Andres was not coming around me.
“Thereafter, I received text messages daily from Officer Luttrell,” she told investigators, who even went so far as to set up a “KIK” account. At this point, “His text messages to me became sexually graphic. He described what he wanted to do to me sexually.”
About a week after the incident, he would come by her apartment. He was working – on duty and in full uniform.
She told investigators: “That was when we had sex. He did not rip my clothing off or anything like that. I took my own clothes off. He just unzipped his pants and pulled his penis out. He left his uniform on. We had sex and he left. He was only at my apartment for ten to fifteen minutes. The sex took place in my bedroom.”
She said that the sex was “intercourse only” and that there was “no oral sex.”
She indicated, “I felt pressure from Officer Luttrell to have sex with him.” She indicated, “After we had sex, I continued to receive text messages from him of a sexual nature.”
In October that year, she gave birth to a girl. She told the officers that “Andres was not the only one I had sex with.” She said, “I told him I had sex with an officer.”
She said, “Detective Jameson looked surprised and asked me the officer’s name. I told him I no longer wanted to talk and I would not give him Officer Luttrell’s name.”
Later Detective Mathew Jameson and Lt. Aaron Delao talked with her and told her “they wanted to know if a domestic violence victim had been taken advantage of.” Once again, “I refused to talk to them. The lieutenant frightened me. He looked intimidating. I did not answer any of their questions.”
When Mr. Cordova’s case came to trial, Deputy DA Michael Vroman told the girlfriend that “he would do whatever it took to make sure that the sex I had with Officer Luttrell did not come up in court.”
He told her that “the sex between Officer Luttrell and I did not matter because adults can do that.” He also said that “he was going to make sure that Andres was going to do time and he would take it to his death bed before he allowed Andres to walk free.”
The Vanguard attempted to reach the girlfriend, however, messages were not returned.
In a motion for a new trial filed in March 2017, Deputy Public Defender John Sage argued that defense counsel was never informed that the woman “may have also felt pressured, under color of authority to participate in a sexual relationship with a Woodland Police Officer who was a part of the investigation team.”
He continued: “This would be the same officer who originally obtained her contact information in his official capacity. We have always believed that the investigation in this case was flawed beyond a doubt. The jury was never informed that the investigating officers involved had reason and motive to cover-up one of their own’s sexual misconduct. In fact, the defense was not permitted to cross-examine (the witness) on why CPS became involved.”
He added, “Detective Jameson did not write a report that was turned over to the defense documenting this information.”
Furthermore, “the prosecuting attorney was aware of what happened between herself and Officer Luttrell. She further states that the prosecutor said he would not allow this information in court. The defense never received a memorandum of this conversation between the prosecutor and (the witness).”
“The reason the investigation was so sloppy in the instant case, we believe, is because the Woodland Police Department had something to hide. Therefore, they did not follow evidence that pointed to someone other than Mr. Cordova. And, making sure that Mr. Cordova was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, fit in with their agenda to cover up the actions of Officer Luttrell,” Mr. Sage added.
In response, Mr. Vroman writes in a motion filed on March 29, 2017, that the claim that the witness had sex is “unverified” and “irrelevant evidence that does not bear directly on the charges.”
Additionally, he argues, “this ‘newly discovered’ evidence is not even ‘newly discovered,’ and, as such, does not merit the court granting the defendant’s motion.”
He adds for emphasis, that “the People want to make clear that we are not, in any way, shape or form conceding that (the witness’) claim is true. As such, to later claim that the People are admitting that these allegations are true is inaccurate and a gross overstatement of the People’s position.”
In his motion, Mr. Vroman argued that this was evidence known by the defendant, allegedly, at the time of the trial and therefore does not constitute new evidence.
However, in arguments in front of Judge David Reed, Mr. Sage argued that the evidence constitutes Brady material, which under the Supreme Court’s ruling from 1963 requires the prosecution to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense. Mr. Sage argued that “under People versus Davis, which is 226 Cal App 4th at 1353, trial courts have stated that impeachment material can qualify as Brady information.”
He added that “what matters is that she says she told this information to Mr. Vroman, and I believe Mr. Vroman had a duty under 1054.1, either subsection e or subsection f to reduce that information to a writing and to provide it to the defense prior to trial, if possible, or during trial, if he learned of it during the trial, so we could have asked for a continuance.”
Mr. Vroman told the court, “She never told me she had an affair with any member of the Woodland Police Department. What she told me was that there was information that she — that she knew the defendant was aware of that, would be embarrassing, and that we wouldn’t want to come out.”
“I stated it is irrelevant information.· It is my job to work to keep out irrelevant information,” he argued. “So, I was not aware that she was making this unsubstantiated allegation against now Deputy Placer County, Deputy Luttrell.”
The court looked at this issue through a narrow lens, arguing that since the defense conceded that the defendant “had knowledge that some relationship between Officer Luttrell and (the witness) existed before this trial, and so he had access to that information and had a duty to pursue that, if he thought it was relevant.”
Judge Reed stated, “To come forward after the trial and say, I didn’t bother to look in to that and, therefore, I didn’t know it was there, when I had information that would lead me to look at it doesn’t amount to newly discovered evidence, and so the new trial motion based on newly discovered evidence is denied.”
Defense counsel responded that he was not aware of this information until after the trial.
The court insisted that the issue was not when defense counsel learned about the incident, but when defendant did.
Judge Reed stated, “If he chose not to share that with you that’s on him, but just because he didn’t bother to provide significant information doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to a new trial when he had that information available to him and he chose not to act on it.”
Mr. Sage responded that Mr. Cordova could testify that he did not find out about the affair until after the trial.
Judge Reed responded, “I don’t believe your motion supports that statement. Motion is denied.”
In an appellate brief, which has not had an appellate court ruling to date, the appellant attorney argues that this ruling was in error.
The appellate brief argues that the trial court “abused its discretion in denying the motion” on the basis “that the evidence was not newly discovered,” arguing that “there is nothing in the record that indicates a lack of reasonable diligence on the part of appellant or his trial counsel in not discovering prior to or during the trial.”
The appellate attorney argues, “The court’s belief that appellant knew about the impeachment material because he knew of text messages from Officer Luttrell to [girlfriend] was incorrect. These text messages were never shown and there is no way to know if they identified the sender as Officer Luttrell.”
The appellate argued that this represented Brady material as it was “favorable to appellant, suppressed by the prosecution and prejudicial.”
She cites case law: “Under Brady, [citation], and its progeny, the prosecution has a constitutional duty to disclose to the defense material exculpatory evidence, including potential impeaching evidence.”
The degree to which the matter was investigated is a matter of some dispute. Under SB 1421, police records could be newly available.
However, in a letter dated January 30, 2019, to the Vanguard, the city of Woodland stated, “A review of the City of Woodland Police Department Records, revealed we do not have any of the above records to disclose under SB1421.”
In addition, the city noted, “Officer Luttrell is no longer an employee of Woodland Police Department as of August 15, 2016.”
Coincidentally, the August 15 date is the same date as the shooting allegedly by Mr. Cordova.
Mr. Sage in oral arguments before Judge Reed stated, “I asked… Detective Jameson about a relationship between Officer Luttrell and [girlfriend], who was a witness in our trial, and he indicated that he did receive information he forwarded to his Lieutenant, and an internal affairs investigation was initiated.”
While it is unclear what the communication from the city of Woodland is telling us, under Penal Code 832.7, it states, “ Any record relating to an incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public.” (B)(1).
It further notes, “As used in this subparagraph, “sexual assault” means the commission or attempted initiation of a sexual act with a member of the public by means of force, threat, coercion, extortion, offer of leniency or other official favor, or under the color of authority.”
It is unclear if the Yolo County DA’s office has investigated this matter as a possible sexual assault against a complaining witness and victim of domestic violence. It is also unclear why Officer Luttrell would transfer to the Placer County Sheriff’s Office right in the middle of this matter.
—David M. Greenwald reporting