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Bella Vista man gets life in prison without parole for killing 6-year-old son

He avoids death for killing son, 6 by Tracy Neal | February 23, 2023 at 7:55 a.m.
Mauricio Torres is led out of a Benton County courtroom following his sentencing hearing on Tuesday. A jury found Torres guilty of murdering his 6-year-old son. Torres was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Tracy Neal)

BENTONVILLE -- Mauricio Torres avoided the death penalty Wednesday and instead will spend the rest of his life in prison for killing his 6-year-old son, a judge ruled.

The eight men and four women deliberated for several hours starting Tuesday before returning with their sentencing recommendation Wednesday morning. They had to choose between life imprisonment without the benefit of parole or the death penalty. The death penalty requires a unanimous vote.

Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith talked to several of the jurors outside the courtroom after the proceedings ended.

One juror told Smith the panel was 10-2 Tuesday in favor of the death penalty. He said the final vote Wednesday was 9-3. The juror said they could not convince the three to vote for death.

"It's a tough case and a difficult one," Smith said. "I appreciate your service."

The jurors also spoke to Torres' defense attorneys.

One juror said Torres' eight hours of interviews with police had an impact on him.

"The right to remain silent is a powerful thing which he didn't exercise very well," the juror said.

Torres, 53, of Bella Vista stood and stared downward as Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren read the recommendation sparing Torres the death sentence.

This was Torres' third time to be convicted of capital murder in the boy's death and his second time to be sentenced. The first sentence was for death.

The jury last week found Torres, 53, guilty of capital murder and battery in the death of Maurice Isaiah Torres. Isaiah died March 30, 2015, from an infection caused when a stick was shoved in his rectum. A medical examiner listed chronic child abuse as a factor in Isaiah's death.

The jury recommended life imprisonment without the benefit of parole and 20 years, along with a $15,000 fine, for the battery.

Karren followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Torres to life imprisonment and 2o years for the battery. Karren suspended the fine since Torres will be in prison for the rest of his life.

"I want to say thank you to the jury," Torres said before deputies escorted him out of the courtroom.

"Lord, Jesus Christ," he said as he was walked from the courtroom.

Torres said in a 2015 police interview he put the stick in his son's rectum but later testified his son was holding the stick while doing squats. Torres said Isaiah fell on the stick, and it went inside his rectum.

Jurors saw photographs of bruises and wounds covering Isaiah's body. His teeth were pulled out with pliers and he was forced at times to sleep in a cage, according to evidence presented at trial.

Torres admitted he physically abused his son but claimed his wife was responsible for most of the abuse delivered to Isaiah. Cathy Torres, 51, pleaded guilty in 2017 to capital murder and battery. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors presented testimony at the sentencing from Mauricio Torres' two adult children and adult stepdaughter, who said Torres physically and sexually abused them as children.

Torres last week pleaded with jurors to spare his life and not sentence him to death. He also told jurors about being physically and sexually abused himself as a child.

Smith on Tuesday described the case as an ugly and dark one. Smith said the death penalty was a just sentence in the case.

Jeff Rosenzweig, one of Torres' attorneys, asked the panel for mercy for his client by recommending the life sentence. Rosenzweig described Torres as a broken man who did not intend to kill his son. Rosenzweig said Torres could still help others behind prison walls.

George Morledge, one of Torres' attorneys, said the third trial was a challenge for the defense. He said they had to be creative and present the case differently since some things did not work at the first trial.

Smith said he respected the jury's recommendation.

"I believe that Mauricio Torres deserves the death penalty for the abuse, the torture and the murder of his son," Smith said. "Ultimately that is up to the jury. I'm disappointed in their verdict, but it is their verdict."

Torres still has the right to appeal his conviction. The case is almost eight years old, and there have been two trips to the state Supreme Court with issues in the case.

It was the second time a jury has deliberated on whether Torres should live or die.

Torres was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 2016 in his son's murder, but the state Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 2019 and ordered Torres receive a new trial.

A second jury found Torres guilty of murder and battery. The proceedings ended during the sentencing phase March 5, 2020, when a witness jumped from the witness stand box and attempted to attack Torres. A Benton County Sheriff's Office deputy and a bailiff stopped the witness from reaching Torres.

Karren declared a mistrial and ruled Torres should have another trial. The Arkansas attorney general's office appealed, but the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Karren.

Print Headline: Torres verdict: Life in prison


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