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San Miguel Woman Said Boyfriend Shot Her, Now She Won’t Testify. A Therapist Explains Why

By Matt Fountain The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This week, a court-appointed therapist explained that the "cycle of violence" of intimate partner abuse includes three stages: a tension-building phase, an acute violence phase and a period of contrition or remorse.

The Tribune (San Luis Obispo, Calif.)

After an alleged victim of domestic violence claimed her boyfriend is innocent and refused to testify in his attempted murder trial, a therapist explained to jurors this week why battered victims often return to and even defend their abusers.

"Intimate partner violence is a process," Richard Ferry, a marriage and family therapist, testified Tuesday. "Bonding with the abuser is a survival strategy."

Jim Pinedo of San Miguel allegedly shot girlfriend Dancene Cordova in the neck after prosecutors say he accused her of not doing enough to dissuade them from charging him for a previous alleged assault.

But Cordova, who initially told investigators when she awoke from a coma that Pinedo shot her point blank with his rifle, has since repeatedly said she lied. Instead, Cordova previously told The Tribune the gun went off when she -- after injecting methamphetamine -- threatened to shoot herself and Pinedo attempted to wrestle the gun away.

Despite being under subpoena, Cordova has since refused to testify or cooperate with the District Attorney's Office in any way, and she was held in contempt of court outside the presence of the jury just before opening statements.

The Tribune does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual and domestic violence but is making an exception after Cordova gave the newspaper permission and waived confidentiality in open court.

'Cycle of violence' Deputy District Attorney Megan Baltierra told the jury in opening statements Oct. 31 that Cordova loves Pinedo, and that Pinedo uses that "misplaced love" to abuse and threaten her.

Baltierra also told of past violent incidents in which Pinedo assaulted girlfriends and Cordova, and an incident in which he allegedly said he had dug a grave for her on the San Miguel ranch where he lived.

But Trace Milan, Pinedo's defense attorney, says that Cordova is a daily methamphetamine user who had a warrant for her arrest for a probation violation when she -- possibly under the influence of drugs after awaking from a 10-day medically induced coma -- was first interviewed by detectives in the hospital.

Milan also told the jury that the two have an admittedly physical relationship in which they regularly shout at and shove each other, and also engage in rough intimate activity. He pointed out that Pinedo drove Cordova to the hospital -- likely saving her life, he said -- though he dropped her off and fled because a restraining order prohibiting contact was still active.

On Tuesday -- after Superior Court Judge Jacquelyn Duffy denied a motion by Milan for a mistrial based on alleged interactions between Cordova and Pinedo's family and members of the jury -- Baliterra called Ferry to the stand.

A licensed San Jose family and marriage therapist specializing in domestic violence issues, Ferry also moonlights as a contracted expert witness who said he has testified in roughly 150 cases since 1992. For that, he's currently paid $1,000 for a half-day of testimony, plus $100 per hour for travel expenses, he said.

As a therapist and through his work for a women's shelter in Mountain View, Ferry testified that intimate partner violence is different from, for example, an assault by a stranger in a parking lot.

"Because of that close involvement, they know intimate things about each other: routes they take, PIN numbers they use, those bits of information that can be used against you," Ferry said.

He explained that the "cycle of violence" of intimate partner abuse includes three stages: a tension-building phase, an acute violence phase and a period of contrition or remorse.

Ferry testified that victims develop micro-strategies to manage it, such as placating their abusers, or if that fails, interacting with them less. But Ferry also said that can aggravate tensions, as most abusers have underlying issues with abandonment.

He testified that violent incidents can start early or late in a relationship with smaller aggressions, like pushing, shoving and slamming doors, and increase gradually.

"It can get worse, and it can result in very severe outcomes," Ferry said.

Abusers also go through cycles of emotions, most of them feigned, such as sorrow, he added, and an abusive partner's genuine feelings of remorse are usually too shallow to motivate change.

Domestic violence is about "power and control," Ferry said, and can lead to "traumatic bonding," one well-known form of which includes Stockholm Syndrome.

Ferry lastly told jurors that without treatment or intervention in a domestic violence situation, the cycle of violence unfolds more rapidly, the scope of violence gets worse and the reconciliation phase gets shorter and shorter.

"This is a high-risk population," Ferry said. "People get hurt or even killed."

'I lied about everything' Without Cordova's testimony, the District Attorney's Office is relying on her past statements to officers and during a preliminary court hearing in December. Reading for the jury a transcript of that proceeding, Deputy District Attorney Ashley Cervera recounted how Cordova repeatedly replied "I don't remember" or "I lied" to nearly all of Baltierra's questions about the shooting.

"'I feel like I'm on trial here,'" Cervera said, quoting Cordova from transcript. "'Why do I feel like I'm being held against my will?'"

Cordova did answer questions from Pinedo's attorney at the time, according to the testimony, saying she felt she was being "victimized by the court" and recounted how she threatened to kill herself after Pinedo, who she said doesn't use drugs, caught her injecting meth and "proceeded to end the relationship."

"I lied about everything that day," Cordova reportedly testified.

Pinedo, 38, faces up to life in prison if convicted of all charges and various sentencing enhancements. He's 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.

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