Mistrial granted in Mauricio Torres case after court melee

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Jury saw what they saw ...

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — UPDATE: A judge has granted the defense’s request for a mistrial in the Mauricio Torres case, according to Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith.

Thursday, March 5, was the first day of the sentencing phase, on Wednesday, March 4, the jury found Torres guilty of capital murder and first-degree battery.

The mistrial was triggered after a morning courtroom attack by Torres’ step-son who was testifying for the prosecution about abuse endured by Torres as a child.

“I think Mr. Martin frankly was heartbroken about it,” Smith said. “It’s a hard thing for him, and I certainly cannot blame him for doing it.”

Smith said jurors were notified that they have been dismissed. They were told when they returned from their break at 2 p.m.

The prosecution and defense will meet on March 19 at 9 a.m. at the Benton County Courthouse to discuss options moving forward and a new jury will be empaneled.

No matter what the outcome is, justice always comes in the next life so that’s what you got to trust in that there’s a purpose behind everything happening.

NATHAN SMITH, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY

Smith said he was disappointed that the jurors and the surviving victims were not able to see this trial to a final conclusion.  “I argued vigorously that the law allowed the judge to simply admonish the jury to disregard the incident and let the trial continue as the law allows the court the discretion to do,” said Smith. “I am disappointed that the court granted the mistrial over my objection, but remain committed to fighting for justice.”

Smith said he plans to put together a motion where new jurors would hear the same evidence, and they would make a sentencing phase decision. That would mean either life in prison no parole or death for Torres.

“No one planned today happening,” he said. “Sometimes things happen and you have to adjust to them and we want to do that as well.”

L-R: Defense Attorneys Jeff Rosenzweig, Birc Morledge, Bill James. Outside Benton County Courthouse Annex March 5, 2020.

Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig said going forward, in this case, should be up to the Arkansas State Supreme Court because it’s a question of law and that maybe they would consider taking it up.

“The legal question that will have to be decided is what is the extent of the mistrial,” Rosenzweig said. “‘Is the mistrial just a penalty where there would-be a penalty trial or does it affect the guilt phase too?'”

He said there is a provision in the law that permits a sentencing trial after an affirmed conviction. The Torres trial falls under that situation.

Judge Karren’s mistrial ruling does not put the case in double jeopardy, said Smith.

ORIGINAL STORY:

“Extraordinary event,” is how defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig described a witness for the prosecution. Quinton Martin’s testimony was interrupted around 9:30 a.m when he leaped out of the witness stand and over a table in what appeared to be an attempt to reach convicted murderer Mauricio Torres — his step-dad.

Martin, 24, was brought to court in prison attire and shackled — he’s serving time for drugs. He was the prosecution’s second witness in Torres’ sentencing phase Thursday, March 5. The first witness was Cathy Torres adult daughter.

The courtroom was evacuated while law enforcement eventually contained him after he crawled under a table adjacent to his step-dad. Torres jumped up and got out of the way. These actions could be seen on the surveillance video that was shown in court later in the morning in the presence of attorneys and others, but without the jury present.

Do Quinton Martin’s actions jeopardize the sentencing phase?

After the attorneys and judge reviewed the video, the defense asked for a mistrial to be declared, “due to the dangerous circumstance, attack by a witness,” said Rosenzweig, adding that in more than 40 years as a lawyer he had never witnessed anything like that.

“We have video of what happened of an extraordinary, violent attack, [of a man] who jumped over the stand. It was a physical attack … consider aggravated assault and battery [charges],” said Rosenzweig.

The defense supported their mistrial request by citing a 1998 federal court case, where there was a melee in the courtroom. Other cases were also given as examples.

Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith, who also cited previous court cases and said a mistrial would be a last resort. One suggestion Smith made was to have the cross-examination continue with Martin having guards placed at each side, or the judge could tell the jury to disregard the incident.

Rosenzweig disagreed. “Put him back on [the stand] and risk the same thing?”

Benton County Circuit Court Judge Brad Karren agreed to review the cases during the break that were presented by Smith and Rosenzweig.

Karren had the jurors return to the courtroom and told them they’d reconvene at 2 p.m.

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