The woman whose former partner is accused of killing two people in 2013 testified Tuesday that she clutched her baby in terror for fear they'd be next as gunfire rang out in a Frenchtown basement six years ago.
She would largely keep that story to herself for years, until the surging paranoia that she and her child might be next led her to a police station on the other side of Montana.
With what is expected to be a two-week double homicide trial underway in Missoula County District Court, the explanations of what happened to Frenchtown residents Thomas Korjack and Robert Orozco in 2013 now weigh on 12 jurors.
Since 2016, law enforcement has been piecing together evidence that Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst said corroborates a woman’s statement that Caressa Hardy fatally shot Korjack and Orozco in the basement of the home where they all lived outside of Frenchtown.
That evidence, Pabst said in opening arguments Tuesday, includes a bullet lodged in the wall of the room where the woman said it happened, and where the interior walls and carpet had been replaced in recent years. Prosecutors have also determined blood spatter on a television from that room belonged to Korjack.
But, in Pabst’s words, the prosecution will have to overcome the fact that the bone fragments found in a burn pit on Hardy’s property were so badly torched that forensic experts could not extract DNA evidence from them. The fragments were found to be from two different people.
Hardy’s defense attorney, Britt Cotter, said in his opening arguments the greater pile of evidence points to a different explanation of the two men’s disappearance entirely: that they fled the area to live off the grid and to avoid paying taxes, something for which Korjack had previously been convicted.
Orozco, meanwhile, owes several thousand dollars in child support, Cotter said, creating a motive for him to join Korjack on the lam. Korjack had earned approximately $800,000 in the two years before his disappearance, Cotter said, and withdrew approximately $300,000 in the months before a woman said he was killed.
The first witness to take the stand Tuesday was Karen Jill Hardy, the defendant’s former partner. Caressa Hardy, also known as Glenn Dibley, is accused of trying to have her killed.
Karen Hardy, who moved away from Frenchtown years ago, was the first to report in 2016 that Korjack and Orozco had been killed.
On Tuesday, she was clearly afraid as she stepped up to the witness stand; she initially refused to even look at Caressa Hardy in the courtroom in order to identify him for the prosecutors.
“I’m afraid of him,” she said, shuddering.
“Why is that?” Deputy County Attorney Brian Lowney asked.
“Because he killed people,” she said.
Karen Hardy eventually pointed out Hardy as "the man in the white shirt." Hardy, identified by his attorneys as CJ, was transitioning to a woman when he was arrested. Attorneys and witnesses have used the pronouns "he" and "him" when referring to Hardy.
Karen Hardy first met Hardy when he picked her up from the side of the road in California, where her ex-husband left her after they got into an argument. Their relationship blossomed from there; they had three children together, moved to Wyoming, and became a part of what Karen Hardy described as a non-traditional family, involving Korjack and Orozco.
Korjack became a father figure to Karen Hardy and a grandfather to her children. With Orozco, however, she said it was "love at first sight." Hardy had grown aggressive in his relationship with her; when she got together with Orozco, he joined them and the children in their home. Around this time, Karen said Hardy began "pushing more toward the role of a female, rather than male." He eventually took a new name: Caressa Karen Jill Hardy.
The group eventually moved to a home outside Frenchtown on Pond Road, purchased by Korjack but the title went under Caressa Hardy's name. Karen Hardy said Korjack did so for the family. Korjack also provided employment for the family as home inspectors.
One day they came home from an inspection to find Hardy in the bedroom with another man, she said. This upset Korjack a great deal; while he didn't seem to mind Hardy dressing as a woman, "he was against him being homosexual, anything homosexual," she said. "It made (Korjack) very angry, it changed the way he treated him."
The dissolution of the family ties, specifically Hardy's connection to the group, seemed to start there. Korjack eventually began withholding funds, like money to drive to town or go shopping, from Hardy while still giving cash to the others, she said. She testified that Hardy became increasingly paranoid he was going to get cut off from the family.
"He was afraid that (Korjack) was either going to leave or kick him out of the house or something," she said Tuesday. "He wouldn't have a place to go. … But (Korjack) would never do that, that was never his intention."
On March 27, 2013, she said Hardy came downstairs where she, Korjack and Orozco were looking through a phone book and talking about getting a new property. She said Hardy and Korjack got into an argument.
Then, she said, Hardy pulled a firearm from his bathrobe and shot Korjack. She couldn't recall on Tuesday how many times she heard the gun fire, but remembered hearing glass breaking, that it was smoky in the room when the gunfire ended, and the room smelled weird. She was holding her youngest boy at the time, who was less than a year old.
"I begged him, 'Please don't kill me or kill the children,' and it was like he snapped out of something," she said. "His demeanor just changed, and he said he would never kill the children."
She said she saw the bodies of Korjack and Orozco as Hardy, still armed, ushered her upstairs. The bodies were still there, she said, when Hardy allowed her to retrieve some things from the room days later.
In the following months, Hardy controlled everything from her phone, to where she would sleep in the home and whom she would meet, she said. She recalled Hardy making noises in the basement as he used power tools to crack open Korjack's safe.
She eventually met a woman, through Hardy, with whom he allowed her to go live in Circle, Montana. Several years later she walked into the local police department in a different eastern Montana town to tell authorities what she remembered of the shooting. She was prompted by the growing fear that she was being followed around that town by, she believed, Hardy.
"I feel like he completely uprooted everything. I just feel shattered. Everything was so good, we were happy," she said, finally addressing Hardy in the courtroom. "I don't understand why you did it, I just don't."
Hardy faces two counts of deliberate homicide and two counts of solicitation of murder for allegedly trying to find someone to kill Karen Hardy. His defense attorneys will cross examine Karen Hardy from the stand on Wednesday.