Day 1: Prosecution, Defense Lay Out Arguments In Mauricio Torres Capital Murder Trial
BENTON COUNTY (KFSM) — The prosecution and defense presented their opening statements Tuesday (Nov. 8) in the capital murder trial of Mauricio Torres.
Torres and his wife Cathy Torres are accused of killing their six-year-old son, Maurice Isaiah Torres, who went by Isaiah, in March 2015. The medical examiners office ruled the boy died of injuries caused by rape and chronic child abuse.
Both the Torreses are facing capital murder, rape and battery charges.
WARNING: The details of this case could be disturbing to some readers.
In his opening statement, Prosecutor Nathan Smith referred to Isaiah as the “unloved son” who suffered “unspeakable acts of abuse” and was “covered with marks of abuse.” Smith said the last act of abuse happened during a camping trip at the end of March.
Smith told the jury, Mauricio Torres put a stick in his son’s rectum, which would eventually cause his death, but the child had suffered chronic abuse for two-and-a-half years before that.
Smith wrapped up his statement by telling the jury Torres needs to be held responsible for what he has done.
Torres’ attorney, Bill James, told the jury the case is an emotional one, but argued there is no proof his client is guilty of capital murder or rape.
James told the jury what Torres did was a form of punishment, not a deviant sexual act and he did not know his son would die. James said the prosecution will have to prove there was intent to kill Isaiah in order to prove capital murder.
James further detailed what happened on the camping trip saying Torres put the stick in and made Isaiah stand in a corner as punishment, but his wife, and Isaiah’s mother, Cathy pushed the boy down on top of the stick. James argued the other injuries found on Isaiah’s body during the autopsy, which the medical examiner ruled pointed to chronic abuse, did not cause his death.
James told the jury the prosecution is making the facts of the case uglier by accusing Torres of rape and stated his client acknowledged his mistakes and shows remorse.
The defense wrapped up its statement by telling the jury Isaiah died of sepsis and a single injury, and they will have to decide whether Torres knowingly used the stick to cause his son’s death.
Following opening statement, Smith called his first witness to the stand, Peri Heffernan, one of Isaiah’s teachers while he was a student at Ambassadors for Christ Academy in Bentonville. Heffernan told the jury he was coming to school with more and more bruises, was progressively more angry, would sometimes cry at nap time and would occasionally steal other children’s lunches.
Heffernan said she called the Department of Human Services to report the bruising, but DHS never followed up. She also took photos of the bruises because she felt she needed to document them. Heffernan said Isaiah didn’t return to Ambassadors for Christ Academy after the 2014-2015 school year. Smith also noted to the jury she documented abuse in September, October, November, January, February and March during that school year.
The second witness was also one of Isaiah’s teachers at Ambassadors for Christ Academy, Hannah Welshenbaugh. She told the jury the child would come in with bruises on his head, body and face, so she documented her observations. Welshenbaugh said Isaiah was smaller in stature than the other children and sucked his thumb, which was unusual for his age. Like Heffernan, she said Isaiah stole other children’s lunches.
Welshenbaugh said she discussed the bruising she found on Isaiah with a lead administrator, but did not report her observations to DHS because that was the lead administrator’s responsibility.
Records show DHS investigated two claims involving the Torreses in 2014: one had to with “inadequate supervision” on Jan. 22 and the other had to with “cuts, bruises and welts” on March 20, according to the DHS documents. Both claims were found to be unsubstantiated.
The prosecution then called Capt. John Cottingham of the Bella Vista Fire Department to the stand. Cottingham responded to the Torres home when 911 was called. He testified he found new and old bruises and untreated cuts on Isaiah’s knees.
Next on the stand was Justin Green with the Bella Vista Police Department. Green was called in after paramedics responded to the original 911 call. He told the jury he also found bruising on Isaiah’s body. The prosecution showed photos of the boy’s body that showed bruising down his rib cage and legs, as well as lacerations on his lower back. Green also said Isaiah’s two sisters were crying, but Mauricio and Cathy Torres showed little to no emotion.
The fifth witnessed called by the prosecution was Dr. Franklin Mayhue, the emergency room doctor at Mercy Hospital in Bella Vista. He told the jury Isaiah was brought to the hospital in cardiac arrest with multiple wounds in different stages of healing. He also had a distended stomach, which is not typical of cardiac arrest cases.
Mayhue said when he told the Torreses that Isaiah had died they just stared at him without any emotion. He added that he had never seen anything like that in his 31 years of practice.
The jury then watched a two and a half hour video of Bella Vista Capt. Tim Cook interrogating Torres after the medical examiner ruled Isaiah died of rape and chronic child abuse.
Cook tells Torres his son died because of internal injuries from having a stick inserted into his rectum. Torres denies raping his son saying he is shocked to find out the cause of death. He says he doesn’t think his wife did it.
When Cook asks him if Isaiah’s behavior in the hours prior to his death raised any red flags, Torres says he vomited and had diarrhea. Cook then asks if Torres knew the child was bleeding from his rectum on two cushions in the camper, which investigators found flipped over to hide the blood.
Torres also tells Cook he thought police were making a deal with his wife because she will make up anything she can, but says he won’t point a finger at Cathy because it would be cowardly.
When Cook presses Torres saying someone raped his son and killed him, Torres tells him he would have never called 911 if he did something to him.
During the interrogation, Torres also tells Cook he thought the autopsy results would come back showing Isaiah died of an unknown medical condition.
As the questioning continues, Torres says police shouldn’t be fooled by his wife who has anger management issues and doesn’t have the ability to express love or feelings.
Torres then says if he’s guilty, it’s by association and calls the abuse “a family event.” He admitted he would sometimes put Isaiah in a corner and made him do squats, lift weights or do push ups. Torres says everyone would also spank Isaiah if he did something wrong. He tells Cook he had hit him with a belt, as well as an electrical cord one time, in the past.
At one point, Torres also tells Cook that his father had beat him when he was a child.
Cook will finish his testimony Wednesday morning when court resumes at 8:30 a.m. The medical examiner and one of Isaiah’s sisters are expected to testify sometime this week.
Cathy Torres, who is also facing charges of capital murder, rape and battery, is scheduled to go to trial in May 2017 and Smith said it is unlikely she will testify during her husband’s trial.
If Mauricio Torres is convicted, he could be sentenced to either life in prison or death.