SAN JOSE, Calif. – On the night a woman plopped a severed finger on their table, all Devina Cordero and Daniel Barragan had wanted to do was have a quick dinner at their favorite restaurant, Wendy’s.

Ever since, they’ve struggled to make sense of an incident that made news around the world and left them unable to eat anything but clear broth for days.

They’ve been questioned by the police, kidded by their friends and have argued more than once about Anna Ayala, the Las Vegas woman who said she found the finger in her bowl of Wendy’s chili on March 22 in south San Jose.

A lot has happened since that night, but Cordero and Barragan remained in the background until now. In their first lengthy interview since the dinner they’ll never forget, the young couple recounted what happened that night and explained what has led them to disagree about the famous “chili finger.”

Barragan believes Ayala was telling the truth; Cordero is no longer sure. But they both wonder why the woman at the center of the controversy won’t talk to them anymore. On the same day she withdrew her claim against Wendy’s and her attorney withdrew from the case, Ayala told Cordero and Barragan “you’re on your own. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

“Either way, we’re the victims,” Cordero said Saturday during an interview at Denny’s in South San Jose. Barragan had Denny’s meat lover’s special; Cordero had “the sampler,” french fries, chicken strips and cheese sticks.

That night, “all we wanted was to eat dinner at Wendy’s,” she said. “The finger was brought to our table and now we’re a part of it.”

Cordero and Barragan, both 20, were finishing their usual order of junior bacon cheeseburgers with fries – and sharing a bowl of chili – at about 7:15 p.m. when Cordero noticed a commotion at a table about 10 feet from them.

“They were making a lot of noise,” she said. Suddenly, “all of them got up, hunched over like they were going to be sick. I’m eating the chili and she comes up and says, “don’t eat the chili. There’s a human finger in my chili.”‘

“I spit out my food and she scooped the finger out of the chili with a spoon and rolled it on our table on a napkin,” Cordero said. “I was like, “Oh my God.’ I went outside and got sick.”

Barragan, who took photos of the finger a short time later with his cell phone, asked Ayala what she thought and she said, “It’s a finger and I had it in my mouth.”

To Cordero, the finger “definitely looked cooked. It was bluish and grayish in color.” Barragan said “it didn’t look like a fresh finger.”

After she returned from throwing up, Cordero said she grabbed the napkin and marched up to the counter, yelling, “what is this?”

That’s when a Wendy’s employee poked at the finger with a spoon and said the foreign object in the chili was a vegetable of some type. “They knocked the nail off when they poked it,” Cordero said.

Unsure what to do, Cordero called her mom and was advised to call the police. “They thought I was joking at first,” she said.

While they waited for police to arrive, Cordero and her boyfriend sat talking with Ayala and four others with her. They were never introduced to the couple.

Ayala “kept getting up and going outside,” she said. “She was hunched over but I never actually saw her throw up.”

Barragan and Cordero said they were with Ayala when police interviewed her at the Wendy’s. They said Ayala told them she had been on vacation in Mexico, driven home to Las Vegas for one night and then drove to San Jose to visit relatives. Ayala was having dinner with some relatives at Wendy’s that night.

Baragan asked for Ayala’s phone number and they all left about 9:30 p.m. When Barragan called Ayala a few days later, “she said we should stick together,” he said. “She wanted us to find a good lawyer because we were in San Jose.”

When Barragan called Ayala on April 7, the day after police searched her Las Vegas home, “she said she was going to fight back,” he said. “Three days later, she dropped the claim.”

When the couple called Ayala on the day she dropped the claim, “she was very mad,” Cordero said. “She kept going on about how her family was torn apart, how the media and the cops were out to get her.”

“I talked to her about seven times,” Barragan said. “Her story was the same every time. I felt she was telling the truth.”

Cordero said she now has doubts.

“If she’s telling the truth, I feel badly for her,” Cordero said. “It seems like the whole world is calling her a liar.”

Ayala could not be reached for comment Saturday. A woman who answered her home phone said she was Ayala’s sister but would not give her name.

“I’m taking care of her because she’s sick,” the woman said. “All of the pressure from the press, the cops, the lies – everything has impacted her. She’s real depressed, under a lot of medication.”

A San Jose police spokesman said they will only comment on the case when they have something new to report.

And Barragan and Cordero are on their own. Jeffrey Janoff, the San Jose attorney who withdrew from the case also dropped the couple and several others as clients, saying a suit is futile without Ayala.

“It’s hard to sleep,” Cordero said. “It’s the not knowing: did we eat chili that had a finger in it?” Or was there just the one partial finger in Ayala’s bowl?

Regardless, “I wish it had happened somewhere else,” she said. “Wendy’s is our favorite place.”


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