Thursday, December 4, 2003

Crime

Stevens County man admits killing wife
DNA evidence solves 15-year-old California case

John Craig
Staff writer

A Stevens County man, faced with newly available DNA evidence, has pleaded guilty to killing his second wife 15 years ago in Southern California.

Cordis J. Brooks, 48, faces a restitution hearing Dec. 15 in Torrance, Calif., before going to a California prison to serve a six-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

Brooks had been charged with murder, but accepted a plea bargain Nov. 20 in Torrance Superior Court.

The deal called for Brooks to tell authorities where he buri
ed his wife, Joan S. Brooks, when he killed her in March 1988. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said Brooks was unsuccessful in two attempts to find the grave.

"We are still actively searching," said Detective Sgt. Steve Unglaub of the Torrance Police Department. "Finding the body is very important to the family."

Searchers with cadaver dogs, radar equipment and all-terrain vehicles spent three days in mid-November searching the desert near Lancaster, Calif., and Edwards Air Force Base. Police said the effort was frustrated by topographical changes in the years since Brooks buried his 26-year-old wife in a shallow grave.

For the plea bargain to stand, Brooks had to pass a lie-detector test showing he was truthful in his efforts to recover the body, Unglaub said.

Brooks didn't say in court how he killed his wife, and Unglaub declined to comment on what police believe happened.

Brooks came under suspicion immediately when his wife disappeared, but police didn't have enough evidence to charge him at the time. That changed when genetic testing, unavailable in 1988, confirmed that a stain in Joan Brooks' car was her blood.

Torrance police spokesman Lt. Patrick Shortall said the DNA evidence led to other information that came together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

The case was never closed, and was revived about two years ago. In addition to genetic tests, officers employed surveillance and wiretaps. Witnesses were re-interviewed, and new ones came forward, police said.

Torrance detectives traveled to Stevens County for what the department said were "significant investigations" in cooperation with the Stevens County Sheriff's Office.

Police believed Brooks moved to a rural home just south of Springdale, Wash., only a few months before sheriff's officers arrested him June 23 on a California murder warrant. Before that, he was believed to have been living in the Torrance area.

According to the Daily Breeze newspaper of Torrance, one of the telephones tapped during the investigation belonged to Brooks' parents. They still lived next door to the house where Cordis and Joan Brooks lived at the time of the homicide.

Officers wanted to make sure they could find Brooks in Stevens County, the newspaper reported.

Shortall told The Spokesman-Review that police twice responded to complaints in 1987 that Brooks battered his wife, but she declined to press charges. At the time, California law didn't require police to pursue domestic-violence cases against the wishes of victims.

When he was arrested, Brooks was living with his fourth wife and his 16-year-old daughter by Joan Brooks. The girl was 13 months old when her mother was killed.

Brooks admitted to his third wife in a recorded telephone conversation that he had killed Joan Brooks, the Daily Breeze reported. Despite that evidence, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, head of the district attorney's cold-case unit, said he couldn't prove Joan Brooks was murdered.

Lewin said the evidence showed Cordis and Joan Brooks had a volatile relationship and had been arguing for several days about infidelity. Lewin said the couple threw things, broke dishes and engaged in mutual violence before Cordis Brooks killed his wife, the Torrance newspaper reported.

The Daily Breeze said Joan Brooks' friends stated in court documents that her husband frequently beat her. One friend stated that she thought Cordis Brooks probably hid his wife's body in the desert, with which he was familiar because he was a former champion motorcycle racer.


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