BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — After unanimously finding Mauricio Torres guilty of the battery and murder of his six-year-old son in 2015, a Benton County circuit court jury is undecided regarding his sentence after one afternoon of deliberations.
Proceedings resumed in Judge Brad Karren’s courtroom on February 21 following a sentencing hearing last week during which each side called multiple witnesses to demonstrate aggravating or mitigating circumstances in the murder of Isaiah Torres during a family camping trip. Torres had already been convicted twice for the abuse and killing of his son.
The first was overturned on a sentencing technicality, and the second was declared a mistrial when Torres’ stepson jumped out of the witness stand and attempted to attack him during sentencing. This jury deliberated for approximately four hours before finding him guilty of capital murder for a third time.
Judge Karren began the February 21 sentencing hearing by providing lengthy instructions to the jury regarding their responsibilities and the requirements for delivering a death sentence. He spoke directly about the aggravating and mitigating circumstances that the attorneys would again describe in detail.
The possible events that could qualify as aggravating circumstances included if the jury found that Torres inflicted “cruel or inhumane physical punishment on a child.” Regarding prior felonies that Torres committed, even if he was not convicted, aggravating circumstances include engaging in “deviant sexual activity” through “forcible compulsion.”
At 9:18 a.m., prosecuting attorney Nathan Smith began his closing statement by citing the “darkness of the evidence” that the jury had been presented with during the trial, acknowledging that they had seen things that they certainly would never forget.
“I believe you’re on this jury for a purpose,” he told them before reminding the jurors that he understood the difficulty they dealt with to “confront the evidence.”
He noted that they had already delivered a “just verdict” and that he was now asking for them to provide a “just sentence.”
“He chose how dark and awful this case is,” he said of Torres. “He abused, tortured and murdered a six-year-old boy.”
Smith then described the four forms that the jurors would be presented and went through specifics of each in detail. He reminded the jury about the testimony provided by Torres’ adult children in which they detailed suffering extensive physical, sexual and emotional abuse at his hands.
He clarified that those acts had occurred in both California and Arkansas, but then he simplified the matter by telling the jury that they only needed to agree that Torres had committed one. Smith said that more than that would add weight to the collective aggravating circumstances.
The prosecutor detailed that the murder of Isaiah Torres was committed in a cruel or depraved manner. He noted that the boy suffered “mental anguish” due to the “uncertainty as to his ultimate fate.”
He then walked the jurors through the literal boxes he was asking them to check on their forms by indicating those spots on a PowerPoint graphic displayed on monitors in the courtroom. He then addressed whether Mauricio and Cathy Torres were equal in their conduct.
“The evidence is clearly ‘no,'” he said. He added that Torres continued to “minimize his own responsibility.”
“This is a grave decision, and it should be,” he told the jurors. “The death penalty in this case is justice.”
Defense attorney Jeff Rosenzweig then began his final statement by asking the jury for a little more patience with him.
“I hope you’ll bear with me,” he said, noting that he was going to repeat himself because the matter at hand involved them individually and collectively wielding “the power of life and death.”
“This is as solemn a decision as you can possibly make,” he observed, and then he asked the jury to “spare the life of Mauricio Torres.”
“Any one of you can do that,” he added. He also said that if given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Torres would spend the remainder of his days in a maximum security facility and “probably wouldn’t even see a child” for the rest of his life. He then focused on his client’s lack of intent to kill his son.
“That ought to count for something,” he suggested. He added that Torres didn’t intend to inflect mental anguish, either.
He briefly touched on the subject of justice, calling it a proposition that is not “one size fits all.” He also chose to rephrase his co-counsel’s description of Torres as a “messed-up unit,” instead describing him as a “wretch.”
As it has done throughout the trial, the defense then turned the focus on Cathy Torres.
“Is this fair?” he asked. “To execute Mauricio Torres when Cathy Torres was involved?” He also claimed that she “performed the act” that killed Isaiah.
Rosenzweig then reiterated key moments of Torres’ childhood and upbringing, noting how the boy was “starved for affection” while “dodging bullets” as Civil War was “raging in his childhood neighborhood.”
He also touched on the PTSD diagnosis and his client’s history as a “hard worker.” The attorney also offered that Torres has “a complete lack of self-esteem.”
“He managed to pull himself up and get an education in a helping profession,” Rosenzweig stated, before adding that Torres will no longer be a threat to anyone.
“He’s a broken wretch of a man,” he said. “His life is in your hands. Justice must be tempered with mercy.”
After a brief morning break, Smith provided a short rebuttal statement and immediately took note of the defense’s description of Torres as “broken.”
“The only person in this case who is broken is Isaiah Torres,” he said, adding that everything the child could have been was “taken by the defendant.” He also took issue with the defense harping on the theory that Torres’ actions were not premeditated.
“Should he be rewarded?” he asked the jury. “This ongoing abuse was routine.” He added that the issue of intent was “completely irrelevant.”
He then attacked the ongoing attempts to divert attention to the defendant’s wife.
“The defense wants this trial to be about anything but him,” he explained. “He committed the homicidal act. This is his legal proceeding. His crimes.”
Smith added that the evidence “clearly set him apart” from his wife, and said that asserting that she was more responsible “flies in the face of the evidence in the case.”
He also addressed the ramifications of the sentence.
“Imposing the death penalty says something about us,” he said. “That Isaiah’s life had value.”
Smith also called the defense’s request for mercy “offensive” and “outrageous.”
“Mercy should never work toward injustice,” he stated, saying that anything less than a death sentence would be “an unjust sentence based on the evidence.”
“He wants you to feel pity for his choices,” he said of Torres, a man he described as “far into middle age,” in contrast to the defense’s stories about his childhood. “He had no pity and no sympathy for Isaiah Torres.”
Smith also disagreed with the categorization of Torres suffering from low self-esteem.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he noted before addressing Torres’ arrogance and callousness, reminding the jury that the defendant described himself as “on cloud nine” shortly after the murder.
“He never felt better,” Smith announced.
“This case is a difficult one,” he said, before wishing that nobody present had to be there, observing that the case had been “forced upon us in this courtroom.” He told the jurors that Mauricio Torres had committed a “wrong so monstrous and evil” that only a sentence of death would bring justice.
At 10:56 a.m., Judge Karren told the jury that now was finally the time to “go back and deliberate.” They had not reached a decision by 4:37 and Judge Karren adjourned court for the day.
The jury will return to continue deliberations on February 22 at 8:30 a.m.