THE VENUE: The Benton County courthouse annex building where the Torres murder trial is taking place.
After a Benton County jury on Monday found Mauricio Torres guilty of capital murder and first degree battery
in the 2015 death of his 6-year-old son, Isaiah Torres
, the eight women and seven men heard testimony of more child abuse as the sentencing phase of the trial began.
Three former stepchildren and two biological children of Torres, all of whom lived with the defendant during the late 1990s or early 2000s, spoke on Monday. All but one are now young adults in their early 20s (the fifth is still a minor). And all told the court that they suffered chronic abuse at the hands of Mauricio Torres. Some alleged sexual crimes, some said they were repeatedly beaten and struck, and some said they experienced both physical and sexual abuse.
After the defense calls witnesses on Tuesday — the defendant's father or uncle may testify, attorneys have previously said — the jury will decide whether Torres should receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The emotional, charged testimony delivered on Monday began to illuminate crucial aspects of the Torres case that have been unclear since the murder of Isaiah in 2015. Soon after the arrest of the Bella Vista man and his wife, Cathy Torres
, who also stands accused of murder and will be tried separately, the Arkansas Times learned the two parents had at least five children removed from their home
by a Craighead County court
in the early 2000s. At the time, the couple lived in Jonesboro. The Arkansas Department of Human Services
investigated multiple reports of child maltreatment before the five children were eventually adopted to other families around 2005.
But, the couple evidently moved across the state to Northwest Arkansas soon after their parental rights were terminated and soon had three more children, including Isaiah.
MAURICIO TORRES: An officer escorts the defendant into the Benton County Circuit Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
On Monday, the jury heard from three of the children from the Torres family's years in Jonesboro, one of whom is a teenager. (This newspaper will avoid using her name, since she is still a minor.) The other two are young men now serving prison sentences in Northeast Arkansas — Quentin Martin, 21, and Nicholas Martin, 22. All three were the biological children of Cathy Torres by other men before she married Mauricio, and all three lived with the couple in Jonesboro in the 2000s. The Torres household at the time also included two other siblings who were not present today. However, the jury did hear more testimony from Maurice Torres, Jr., 21, and Erica Torres, 24, the biological children of Mauricio Torres by a previous wife before he married Cathy.
The teenage stepdaughter told the jury she lived with Cathy up until she was around 4 1/2 years old. Mauricio entered the picture when she was around 3, she said. It "wasn't the greatest life that someone could have," she said. "I was sexually abused ... by Mauricio Torres." She recalled two instances in which Mauricio allegedly placed his lips to her vagina, among other sexual acts. In 2004, a Jonesboro police report was filed alleging Torres raped the girl. But defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig pointed out that at the time, her biological father was engaged in a custody dispute with Cathy Torres over the girl. He noted the 2004 criminal investigation evidently did not result in any charges against Torres
, and that she told the investigator at the time (that is, when she was 4) that she'd rehearsed describing the alleged abuse with an adult.
"I’ve been to counselors throughout my entire life, just to get over everything," the young woman said today.
Quentin Martin, who is currently serving a sentence for breaking and entering and theft of property, said he lived with Mauricio and Cathy Torres when was between the ages of 4 and 8 along with his brothers and sister. "It was a daily occurrence, where we'd get hit with belts ... from our ankles to the top of our backs," he said, clad in stripes on the witness stand. "I guess for his amusement, he’d make us come into the living room and fight each other, and if we didn’t, he’d hit us." Mauricio once hit him over the head with a piece of wood, hard enough to leave a serious injury, he said. Quentin also described sleep deprivation sessions, regiments of exercises for punishment, and sexual acts that he alleged his father would make him and his brothers perform on one another. (He said his father never touched him directly, nor any of his brothers.)
However, Nicholas Martin said during his testimony that he didn't recall sexual abuse regarding himself or his brothers (although he said he believed Mauricio was molesting his sister). Martin is in jail for a drug charge and is awaiting trial for felony possession of a firearm. When asked by the prosecutor whether Mauricio ever physically abused him, he began breathing heavily and shakily. "Oh, yeah," he said. He described being forced to fight his brothers and being routinely hit with a belt by hhis stepfather. "When that wouldn't work, he'd use a wire coat hanger ... [or] his fists. ... If we cried, it'd be two or three more licks until we stopped crying." He and his brothers didn't tell anyone, he said, because "we feared for our lives."
Along with the inconsistency in the testimony about sexual abuse, defense attorney Rosenzweig attempted to establish doubt over the brothers' testimony by presenting multiple written interviews of the children performed by child welfare investigators in the early '00s. In the interviews, both boys said their injuries were accidental or were caused by normal childhood activities, such as playing football. On the stand on Monday, both young men became visibly angry and upset when shown these words of theirs from over a decade ago. "We was made to say that," Quentin Martin said, later adding "we were scared ... Why wouldn't I lie? I didn't want to get hurt no more."
Maurice Torres, Jr., and Erica Torres didn't live with Cathy's children, but they said they were repeatedly sexually and physically abused by their father before he left their mother. Maurice said his father would hit him "multiple times a day" with his fists or with "anything that was close by," and that the beatings began "when I was around 4 or 5." He also said his father had intercourse with him on a frequent basis. He confirmed to Rosenzweig that he did not tell anyone about the sexual abuse until last year, after Torres was arrested for the murder of Isaiah.
Several of the others who took the stand on Monday glanced in the direction of Mauricio Torres, but Erica Torres stared at him so directly and confrontationally that attorneys repeatedly had to ask for her attention. "It was hell. I was afraid every day ... He said he'd kill me, my brother and my mom." Seemingly overcome with emotion, she said her father would force sexual intercourse on her as well, but told Rosenzweig said she never told her mother or anyone else about the abuse until last year.
Tomorrow, the jury will decide whether Mauricio Torres goes to death row or serves life without the possibility of parole.