BENTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — All Benton County offices closed on January 30 due to road conditions in the area, delaying scheduled jury selection before the start of Mauricio Torres’ third trial for the murder of his six-year-old son. Here is a look back at the events of this case so far.
Spring, 2015: Torres and his wife, Cathy Torres, were arrested following the death of their son, Isaiah, during a weekend camping trip. According to police reports, Mauricio and Cathy Torres told first responders they “didn’t know what was wrong with Isaiah as he was lying on the living room floor, unresponsive and not breathing.”
Their stories began to differ during police questioning. Investigators say Cathy claimed Isaiah seemed normal, just tired, in the hours before he died. When they returned home from a weekend camping trip, she said he took a shower on his own and got into bed.
But Mauricio told detectives that he and Cathy had to bathe Isaiah together because Isaiah felt sick and was difficult to wake up. When asked about their son’s cuts and bruises, both Mauricio and Cathy denied knowing anything about them and began pointing fingers at each other.
During a second interview, court documents show that Cathy admitted to seeing Mauricio injure Isaiah in the past. Four days after Isaiah’s death, but before she was arrested, Cathy Torres filed an Order of Protection against her husband.
Medical examiner Dr. Stephen Erickson said Isaiah Torres had suffered significant and repeated abusive injuries. In May 2015, the state announced that it would seek the death penalty against Mauricio and Cathy Torres for capital murder in the death of their son.
June, 2015: An Arkansas Department of Human Services report confirmed the details of Isaiah Torres’ abuse, including cuts, bruises, sexual penetration, abuse with a deadly weapon and extreme or repeated cruelty. Previous DHS investigations were conducted in January and March of 2014 into claims that Torres had inadequate supervision and that he had suffered cuts and bruises. According to the summary document, investigators found those claims to be unsubstantiated.
“We did not have a complete picture of pertinent previous investigations,” DHS Communications Director Amy Webb said. She added that DHS might change its policy on record-keeping.
“One of the policy changes that we’re planning on making is keeping those unsubstantiated case files longer, so that we could use those in cases where there is a death,” Webb said at the time.
When asked how investigators missed the signs of long-term abuse reported by a medical examiner, Webb stated that a physical is not required on all child maltreatment reports.
“They’ll go out and they do look for those indications that were called in, and they do mark up a body sheet if they notice anything,” Webb said. “Unless it’s more serious and requires medical attention we don’t go so far as doing a full physical exam.”
The division that handled Isaiah’s case is now requiring another set of eyes on each investigation, according to the Division Director, Cecile Blucker. DHS subsequently scheduled more training sessions, requiring nearly 100 investigators to attend.
November, 2016: Jury selection began for Mauricio Torres’ trial, with his wife’s scheduled for six months later. Prosecutors announced their intent to seek the death penalty.
Mauricio Torres was found guilty of capital murder and first degree battery on November 14. The jury sentenced him to death.
March, 2017: Cathy Torres reached a plea deal, agreeing to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“I wasn’t surprised, I was gratified that Kathy admitted her guilt on this,” said Benton County prosecutor Nathan Smith. “It was important to give validity to the crime to have both of these parents be held accountable for their roles so I think that was important in the case.”
August, 2017: The Arkansas Supreme Court granted Torres a stay of execution as his defense filed an appeal.
June, 2019: Following multiple delays, the state Supreme Court granted Torres a new trial by a 4-3 decision, ruling that Arkansas authorities couldn’t use rape to substantiate the capital murder conviction because the assault occurred in Missouri. Then-Attorney General Leslie Rutledge petitioned the court, asking them to reconsider overturning the guilty verdict, but that request was denied by the same 4-3 margin.
“I think I’ve never been more shocked by a decision of Supreme Court than today,” said Smith. “Traditionally it’s been that a person can’t simply escape culpability of a crime if they’ve committed some instances of the crime in one state and others in another state.”
February, 2020: Jury selection for Torres’ second trial began. Over 100 potential government witnesses were listed, including Cathy Torres, who agreed to testify as part of her plea deal.
Torres was found guilty again on March 4, 2020. During the sentencing phase of the trial, his stepson, Quinton Martin, jumped from the witness stand and attempted to attack Torres. Martin apparently reacted after the prosecutor asked if Mauricio Torres had ever sexually abused him.
Judge Brad Karren of the Benton County circuit court declared a mistrial on March 5, 2020. “This court finds that there is no conceivable way for this jury to disregard the fear and passion they witnessed and experienced during this incident,” he said in the order.
A third trial was scheduled and reset multiple times after a host of delays and continuances, ultimately falling on the docket this January.