BRIGHTON, Colo. — An Adams County District Court judge ruled Friday that prosecutors have sufficient evidence to try Cristina Wanda Sears in the shooting death of her stepmother and the serious wounding of her stepsister just days before Christmas.

In an emotional hearing that lasted more than three hours, prosecutors called several witnesses, including Sears’ son, Kenneth R. Richey, who testified in poignant detail about how the circumstances — the loss of Sears’ job, the recent death of her father, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts combined with a years-long dispute about her father’s estate — drove her to the deadly confrontation on Dec. 22.

Richey forced back tears as he recounted how he, his then-fiance Shanyndoah Bowen, and Joy Pigon, then 49, the stepsister, were posing for pre-wedding photos and preparing gifts around 3:30 p.m. in their Aurora home when they heard a loud pop from the kitchen next door.

They sprung to the doorway and saw 75-year-old Eleanor J. Sears, the stepmother, crumpled on the floor, and then heard a second pop from a black handgun.

“That’s when I saw blood splatter on us,” he said, his face flushed and voice cracking. “It was coming from Joy.”

District Attorney Don Quick and Cristina Sears’ public defender, Stefanie Gaffigan, both declined to comment after the hearing. Judge Mark D. Warner ordered Sears, 44, held without bond until her March 19 arraignment.

Gaffigan indicated she might not be prepared to enter a plea at the arraignment for Sears’ seven criminal counts, including first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder.

In a faded yellow-and-white jumpsuit, legs and hands shackled, Sears sat stone-faced, her eyes either trained to the ground or staring blankly into the courtroom. Several times she quietly shook her head as Quick and a second prosecutor questioned witnesses, but wiped away tears when Gaffigan cross-examined her son, who frequently visits her in prison and acknowledged the difficulty of testifying against her.

Cristina Sears has no prior arrest record, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Richey told Bowen to flee to the backyard and over the fence to a nearby field when the gunshots rang out.

“All I wanted to do was make sure she (Bowen) was OK,” said Richey, who has since married Bowen. “I was trying to interject my body in between.”

By the time paramedics and police arrived, Eleanor Sears lay unresponsive but alive in a pool of blood. Pigon’s bullet-ridden body was just feet away, wounded as many as nine times. Both were rushed to the University of Colorado hospital, where Eleanor Sears was later pronounced dead. One bullet had struck her femoral artery, an autopsy report concluded, said Det. Mark Yacano of the Aurora Police Department.

Pigon has since been released from the hospital, but did not appear during the hearing because she was terrified of facing Cristina Sears, said a family member, who only gave her name as Sheila, outside the courtroom.

Still unclear is how many bullets Cristina Sears allegedly fired. Yacano said multiple casings, a few live rounds and several bullet fragments were scattered throughout the home, lodged in walls, littered in the kitchen and located in the backyard. An analysis of the gun has not been concluded.

Two children — boys ages 3 and 6 — were also upstairs during the ordeal, but were not harmed physically, and police believe they were under the care of one of the victims.

Cristina Sears apparently left the gun in the home before briskly walking out to her white Ford SUV, parked crookedly on the sidewalk outside, witnesses said. She later drove to the Sand Creek Lounge nearby, where police arrested her around 5 p.m. in the presence of her other son, Josh.

“Thanks a lot, Dad,” Sears said upon her arrest, Yacano said.

In interviews conducted by Aurora investigators, Josh Sears said that she had ordered four rum-and-Cokes at another local bar before dropping him off at an appointment with his probation officer. She then drove to Eleanor and Joy’s home.

Yacano said Sears later spoke about the incident to family members.

“I shot both of them and killed them,” she said to one family member, according to Yacano’s testimony. “I can’t believe they made me do this.”

Tension between Cristina Sears, Pigon and Eleanor Sears had been mounting for years, but elevated in the weeks leading up to the incident, Richey said. Eleanor Sears and and Pigon found their tires slashed in an American Furniture Warehouse parking lot two weeks before the incident, said a neighbor, April Chapman.

Pigon and Eleanor Sears had placed several guns around the home in case Cristina Sears confronted them, a fact that, when she learned it, deeply upset Cristina, Richey said.

“She (Cristina Sears) was so depressed, and the way she took it … I can’t explain,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion in her face, and then she kept crying. She was crying all the time.”


An abridged version of this story originally appeared on Page 3B of the Feb. 20, 2010, Rocky and Final editions of The Denver Post. The full story appeared on The Post’s Web site.