Jose Roldan had seen or heard his parents argue before, but what happened Jan. 29, 2017 between Yadira Gomez and Vicente Roldan-Marron was different.
When they arrived home from church that day – separately and at different times – they started fighting again after arguing in the church parking lot. This time, 11-year-old Jose said, they appeared to be pushing each other.
“When they fight, I'm used to it,” he said. But he and his brother and sister were scared enough that they grabbed their backpacks – knowing the next day was a school day – and went to the basement.
Jose testified Wednesday morning at the Eastern Jackson County Courthouse in the trial of Roldan-Marron, who is accused of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Gomez, whom police found the next day in their Hawthorne Place apartment. Prosecutors and the defense wrapped up their cases by the end of the trial's second day, leaving closing arguments for Thursday morning.
Jose, whose siblings are now 9 and 7, said they could hear their parents' arguing from the basement, and as they stayed in the basement they took turns sleeping because they were scared.
At one point, Jose said, he had sneaked up from the basement, hid by a couch and saw his father grab a knife and go upstairs. “I've never seen him scream so bad,” he said.
When Jose went upstairs, he saw his mother dead on the floor. Under cross-examination, he also said he heard his father saying things such as “Why did I do this?” and “Why did that happen?”
He also had seen his father sleeping standing up, knowing he'd been drinking, he said.
When Jose went back downstairs, he and his siblings made some cards. In the morning, they got ready for school by themselves, woke up their father – which took about five minutes – and had him drive them to school.
When Jose got to school at Fairmount Elementary, he said, “I took out the card and just started crying.” Their cards were to say goodbye to their mother, he said, and some of them went in her casket.
When Jose and a sibling told their teachers what had happened, that set in motion the chain of events in which police did a welfare check on Gomez – first going to an apartment they had lived in just a month earlier – and eventually finding her dead, with Roldan-Marron also in the apartment.
Dr. Robert Pitek, from the Jackson County medical examiner's office, testified that Gomez suffered several stab wounds to her midsection, including to the heart, liver and both lungs – any of which alone could have been fatal. She also had bruises and small wounds near her eye, stab wounds on her shoulder, defense wounds on hands and arm, a slice down her midsection that appeared to have come perimortem (during the period immediately preceding and following her death).
The front of both Gomez's breasts also were cut off, and Pitek said that apparently was done perimortem, as well. She also had bruising on her neck that indicated possible choking, but Pitek said it wasn't enough that she was choked to death. That assuredly was caused by the stab wounds to the vital organs, he said, though it was “hard to say” how quickly she died.
Pitek's testimony was particularly jarring when paired with some of the photos taken during Gomez's autopsy, causing at least one juror to wipe away some tears.
Witnesses for the defense included a police officer who had seen wounds on Roldan-Marron's abdomen – according to court documents he admitted to hospital staff the wounds were self-inflicted – and the husband and wife who are pastor and associate pastor at Kayros Iglesia del Nazareno in Independence (Kayros Church of the Nazarene) where Gomez was a music leader and the children attended.
Douglas and Josie Galvan said they had given advice to the couple about their troubled marriage and even made a couple visits to Gomez, whom they considered a good Christian woman and mother, outside of church. Answering through a translator, Douglas Galvan said he was surprised Roldan-Marron, who has not a regular church attendee, had asked him for help.
He said he knew about romantic relationship that developed between Gomez and fellow church member Gilberto Mendoza, which he did not agree with and thus advised the two to take a break from the church's music group.
That fateful Jan. 29, Galvan had called a meeting at church involving Gomez, Roldan-Marron, Mendoza and his wife, Gomez's father and a couple others because “the situation had gotten more complicated.” Galvan said Roldan-Marron appeared “stressed” during the meeting, and he was concerned the meeting could get physical, knowing that Mendoza and Roldan-Marron had both grown up in rough neighborhoods. Mendoza ultimately left abruptly, he said.
Galvan saw both Gomez and Roldan-Marron in the congregation during the service after that meeting. But the tragedy that followed later that day has several versions among the church members, he said.
“It's been a really hard test,” Galvan said.