Death Penalty Upheld in 1979 Murder of San Pablo Girl

The murder conviction and death sentence of a man who raped and strangled an 8-year-old San Pablo girl in 1979 were unanimously upheld today by the California Supreme Court in San Francisco.

Joseph Seferino Cordova, 71, was arrested in 2002 after a so-called “cold hit” DNA match in a national database linked his DNA to evidence found in the body of Cannie Bullock 23 years earlier.

Cordova was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death in Contra Costa County Superior Court in 2007.

Cannie’s body was found early on the morning of Aug. 25, 1979, in the backyard of the house where she lived with her mother, Linda Bullock.

Bullock had gone out to a bar the previous evening with a woman friend who was visiting and had locked the doors and windows and told Cannie not to let anyone in.

At the time of the murder, Cordova was living in San Pablo. He later moved to Colorado and was convicted in that state of attempted sexual assault on a child in 1992 and sexual assault on a child in 1997.

Among other claims, Cordova contended in his appeal of the murder conviction that there was an unfair delay in prosecution because authorities allegedly should have suspected him sooner.

The California high court rejected that argument, saying that prosecutors established that the investigators possessed no evidence connecting Cordova with the crime until the cold hit in 2002.

“Indeed…defendant was wholly unknown to the investigators until 2002,” Justice Ming Chin wrote in the court’s opinion.

Neither Bullock nor her friend, Debbie Fisher, mentioned Cordova to investigators in 1979, the court noted. At the 2007 trial, Bullock testified she did not remember Cordova, while Fisher testified that she had met Cordova at Bullock’s house a couple of times.

The panel also turned down challenges by Cordova to the use of the DNA evidence.

“The basic science behind DNA testing has long been accepted in
court,” Chin wrote.

Today’s ruling was made in Cordova’s direct appeal from the trial court judgment. He can continue constitutional challenges to his conviction in the federal court system.

There are currently 747 inmates on death row in California, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. No one has been executed in the state since 2006 as a result of federal and state lawsuits challenging capital punishment procedures in California.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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