As Torres trial nears end, jury hears graphic details of alleged child abuse, autopsy | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, November 10, 2016

As Torres trial nears end, jury hears graphic details of alleged child abuse, autopsy

Posted By on Thu, Nov 10, 2016 at 6:56 PM

click to enlarge MAURICIO TORRES: The defendant at the Benton County Courthouse on Tuesday morning. - KRIS JOHNSON
  • KRIS JOHNSON
  • MAURICIO TORRES: The defendant at the Benton County Courthouse on Tuesday morning.

On the third day of the trial of Mauricio Torres, the Bella Vista man accused of killing his 6-year-old son, Isaiah Torres, prosecutors called to the witness stand a young sister of the victim and the medical examiner who performed an autopsy on the slain child after his March 2015 death. Torres has been charged with capital murder and first-degree battery; prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

In the morning, the sister, age 9, testified that she witnessed her biological father perform repeated beatings and other acts of abuse on her brother, including the events leading up to his death on a family camping trip in Missouri. In passing, she also referenced abuse committed by her biological mother, Cathy Torres, who is being tried for capital murder and first-degree battery separately from her husband. In the afternoon, Dr. Stephen Erickson of the Arkansas State Crime Lab presented a series of graphic autopsy photos that showed the extensive pattern of bruising, scars, puncture wounds, lacerations and other marks covering the body of Isaiah Torres at the time of his death.

Between the two witnesses, Benton County prosecutors painted for the jury a stomach-churning picture of the alleged abuse suffered by Isaiah at the hands of his father. The child died from acute peritonitis, Erickson testified: "a traumatic disruption of his rectum from a foreign object," which was evidently a stick that had been inserted in his anus. But Erickson also said that before that "ultimate fatal injury" occurred, the autopsy showed there was "no doubt whatsoever that this child was subjected to a prolonged period of abuse." The jury also heard the defense's cross-examination of Captain Tim Cook, the lead investigator at the Bella Vista Police Department, who took the stand on the first and second days of the trial.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday afternoon after Erickson's testimony, and the defense is not expected to call any witnesses of its own. Court will not be in session tomorrow due to Veterans Day, so attorneys will present closing arguments in the Torres trial Monday morning.

In questioning Cook, defense attorney George Morledge referred back to statements made by Mauricio Torres in the three interviews Cook performed with the defendant after Isaiah's death. Audio recordings of those interviews were played for the jury yesterday and Tuesday. Although Torres admitted to putting "a stick in [Isaiah's] bottom because spanking wasn't working," he seemed confused about why this would be considered rape. The defense hopes to plant some doubt within the jury as to whether Torres' bizarre actions were actually performed with intent to derive sexual gratification and the intent to kill his son. In the interview with Cook, Torres said he made Isaiah perform squats in a corner, with the stick inserted in his rectum, as punishment on the Missouri camping trip. “Cathy got mad because he … wasn’t going fast enough … so she pushed him down," Torres said. (Benton County prosecutors have not charged either Torres with rape only because of jurisdiction: That act occurred outside of the state of Arkansas, whereas Isaiah was declared dead in Bella Vista after the family returned from their trip.) Mauricio Torres has said he didn't realize Isaiah was badly injured until hours later and claimed that he only thought the boy had "a stomachache."

One of Isaiah's two sisters was questioned by deputy prosecutor Stuart Cearley. When asked about what life was like living with her "old dad" and mother, the child said "it was kind of good and bad. ... We got to do a lot of stuff with each other and go places. We went to restaurants and stuff." But, she added, "Maurice was doing bad things to my brother. Like he was hitting him with a stick and stuff." When asked how many times, she said, "a lot." Other times, her brother would be hit with a cable on the back. "There would be marks and he would be in pain and stuff ... He was crying and he was screaming sometimes," she said. Sometimes, she herself would be the one to hit Isaiah, she said, on Maurice's instructions. Cathy would hit Isaiah too, usually with a sandal, although Cearley did not ask many questions about the mother's role in the abuse

Isaiah was made to sleep in a cage and had to carry weights around as punishment, the girl testified. "My brother wouldn't eat what we would eat — only peanut butter, rice and beans," she said. "It could have been for another punishment, I guess." (Isaiah's former teachers testified on the first day of the trial that the 6-year-old seemed always hungry and would steal lunches from his classmates.) He'd be made to take cold showers. She once witnessed her father pouring bleach over the boy's back, which gave him a chemical burn. And even worse: "Sometimes, after my dad would go to the bathroom, my brother would have to eat his poop and stuff," she said.

As for Isaiah's death itself, she said she briefly saw him with a "stick up his butt" through the camper door on that March 2015 camping trip. The night before his death, she said, she saw him naked and bound with shoelaces. She then described the trip back to Arkansas: "It was, like, late that night and my brother wasn’t feeling very good. It looked like something was wrong with him." Maurice carried the child inside the home and gave him a shower, and the parents called 911. Soon thereafter, Isaiah was pronounced dead at the hospital. "We just sat there for awhile, crying," the sister said, and then the family went to the police station — her mother in a squad car, and she and Isaiah's other sister riding with Mauricio. On the ride, she said Mauricio "said not to tell anyone about it. Like don't tell anyone what happened."

Grotesque as this account may be, any testimony from a young child is subject to some scrutiny as to accuracy. Defense attorney James tried to show the girl's testimony was not internally consistent on every point. During an initial interview after Isaiah's death, the sister testifying today did not mention the abuse her brother suffered; it was only later that she described it. When questioned by James about whether it was actually Cathy or Mauricio Torres that poured bleach on Isaiah, she said, "I think it was my mom, really ... but maybe it was my dad, too."  (It is known, however, that the child did have chemical burns on his back: This was in fact discovered in a 2014 examination at Children's Hospital in Little Rock in which the authorities believed Torres' story that the chemical exposure was accidental.

After lunch, however, the prosecution presented the jury with a witness who delivered extensive visual evidence of Isaiah's suffering: Dr. Stephen Erickson of the Arkansas Crime Lab, a forensic pathologist. In addition to the acute peritonitis that killed Isaiah, Erickson said, "a significant contributing factor to his death was … multiple healing, healed and acute blunt force injuries to his trunk and extremities." He then showed a series of graphic images from the autopsy.

In the first, the child is still partially clothed, wearing a blue and red shirt pulled up to reveal his chest, an EKG pad still attached. His arms are skinny, his hair ragged, his eyes sunken, his stomach distended. A huge, reddish bruise spreads across the right side of his body.

From the first photograph onward, the wounds peppering Isaiah's body were evident — and the jury saw picture after picture. Marks and scars dotted his torso, his head, his back, his face, his mouth, his legs, his abdomen, even his internal organs. The doctor cautioned that some of the discoloration of the skin was caused by the lividity brought on by death itself, and that not every mark could be conclusively linked to an act of abuse. But on the whole, he said at one point, "this is chronic child abuse. It could go in a textbook."

Isaiah's back was a mass of injuries — Erickson said he counted over 60 on the back alone — including some wounds consistent with "whip marks." Scar tissue was present everywhere, including the interior of his lip. "Everyone’s seen their kid lose their teeth. These teeth weren’t lost naturally. … They were knocked out." He had injuries on his fingers, likely from "shielding himself against blows." When the doctor shaved the child's head to examine his scalp, he found "puncture wounds everywhere." The list went on and on.

One point of relevance for Cathy Torres' eventual trial concerned certain marks on Isaiah's body that defense attorneys for Mauricio Torres suggested were consistent with a diamond ring. Mauricio did not wear such a ring, but Cathy did. "Could a ring have caused some of these injuries?" Morledge asked. "Yes, I could see this," Erickson said.

In response to other questions from the defense, the examiner said the child did not display ligature marks consistent with being tied up recently, and confirmed that while Isaiah was thin, he was not technically malnourished.

This article has been altered since its original publication.

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