Murder trial gets under way

San Jose
– Daren Campodonica killed his wife as she prepared to leave the
family home after she learned her husband was having an affair, a
prosecutor told a jury Monday.
Tarina Campodonica died March 16, 2002 from a single gunshot
wound to the head. She was 35.
San Jose – Daren Campodonica killed his wife as she prepared to leave the family home after she learned her husband was having an affair, a prosecutor told a jury Monday.

Tarina Campodonica died March 16, 2002 from a single gunshot wound to the head. She was 35.

In his opening statement Monday in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Ed Fernandez said a 20-year pattern of domestic abuse started when the two were in high school, lasted two decades and culminated with Tarina Campodonica’s death.

“This was the culmination of a 20-year relationship,” Fernandez said. “One of abusiveness, possessiveness, jealousy, control of the defendant over his wife who remained faithful to her marriage vows, devoted to her child, respectful – though fearful – of her husband. This was their last fight.”

But defense attorney John Garcia said the death was most likely a tragic accident.

“Real evidence will show this was an accidental shooting,” Garcia said.

Fernandez took the jury of 10 men and two women through the couple’s marriage and the day of her death.

He told of witnesses to physical abuse and threats, but also that, as is typical with some abusive relationships, the victim’s family did not know the extent of the abuse.

Daren Campodonica had a series of affairs and even took the couple’s daughter, 15-year-old Nicole, Christmas shopping with his latest mistress, Fernandez said. He would go between his mistresses and his wife, unable to give either up, he added.

Caught in the middle was Nicole, who was present with her friend Myra Bettencourt at the southwest Morgan Hill home, during the final hours-long fight, Fernandez said.

“Nicole, who turned 19 last week, is in the same position today,” Fernandez said. “She can’t honor her mother without betraying her father.”

The daughter, along with Bettencourt, will testify at some point.

The final argument, Fernandez said, began when Tarina Campodonica discovered 50 calls to a mistress – an affair he promised was over – on her husband’s phone bill.

The victim said she had had enough and packed a small duffel bag, ready to leave, Fernandez said.

Daren Campodonica objected and took her into a spare bedroom and began choking her, the prosecuting attorney said in his hour-long opening statement.

He also begged her not to leave, took scissors and made a display of cutting himself, then shoved the scissors into a wall, saying he would kill himself if she left.

Nicole Campodonica told police she heard her mother beg him to stop choking her.

Tarina Campodonica took the bag and her purse out to her truck, parked at the curb, where she saw Bettencourt and apologized for subjecting her to a family fight.

“I’m definitely getting a divorce,” she said, though to no one in particular, Bettencourt told police.

Tarina Campodonica then returned to the house where the argument continued.

Nicole Campodonica and Bettencourt were outside on the lawn waiting for a ride when they heard a single gunshot from the garage. The Salzanos – next-door neighbors – arrived, according to the police report, and found Tarina Campodonica on the floor of the garage.

The Salzano’s son, Ethan Salzano, was the first on the scene. He said the defendant was holding a cloth to the victim’s head, trying to stop the bleeding.

His mother, Mary Ellen Salzano, stayed with Tarina Campodonica as she died, “so she wouldn’t be alone,” Fernandez told the jury.

Fernandez said he did not know how Nicole would appear on the witness stand, that she has withheld information from police, only telling friends or relatives who then passed the information along, most particularly that she saw her father place the gun in her mother’s hand after the shooting.

“Nicole’s present attitude is not known,” Fernandez said. “She could be angry, she could be cooperative. Nicole said she needs to believe that it was an accident.”

The coroner’s report said the shot from the .22 semi-automatic went through the victim’s earlobe, into her neck, through the carotid artery and lodged in her spine, Fernandez said. The report said the gun would have been held at a 40 degree downward angle, a highly unusual angle for suicide.

But defense attorney Garcia said that Daren Campodonica was not the only one having affairs.

“Tarina had outside intimate interests,” Garcia said, though he did not elaborate.

He also told the jury that the gun was Tarina Campodonica’s, that no gunshot residue was found on the defendant’s hands – although they were bagged by police and tested twice – and that the memories of several witnesses are not as clear as Fernandez suggested.

Garcia said the daughter would testify that, though she often had to put herself between her parents as they argued, she never saw her father be physically abusive.

“The idea that Daren killed Tarina to prevent her from leaving, that he couldn’t live without her is a ludicrous notion,” Garcia said.

He said Tarina was stressed, suffering from multiple sclerosis and failing eyesight.

“But she was not having such a difficult time that she would end it,” Garcia said.

Campodonica has been in custody since his arrest. His trial is estimated to last six to eight weeks.

The case continues in Dept. 39, at the Hall of Justice, 190-200 W. Hedding St., San Jose.

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