Prosecutors in Benton County began building their case today against Mauricio Torres, a Bella Vista man accused of killing his 6-year-old child, Isaiah Torres, in March 2015. Torres faces charges of capital murder and first-degree battery in connection to his son’s death. He has pleaded not guilty. The prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Cathy Torres, the defendant’s wife, has also been charged with capital murder and first-degree battery. She will be tried separately.
Medics arrived at the Torres home on March 29, 2015 to find Isaiah Torres lying on the living room floor, unresponsive. In a police affidavit, the first responders said they saw “heavy bruising and … puncture wounds all about his body.” Dr. Franklin Mayhue at the Mercy Bella Vista emergency room tried and failed to revive the child and found “signs of blunt trauma to his head, trunk and extremities” and blood in his rectum, consistent with penetration by a hard object.
During opening statements today, prosecuting attorney Nathan Smith told the jury, composed of eight women and seven men, that Isaiah Torres suffered from chronic child abuse. “As the result of this abuse … he led an unfinished life,” said Smith. The prosecution claims that Torres knowingly killed his son, and that his son died as the result of a rape.
Defense attorney William James, Jr. denied these claims, saying that Torres was punishing his son, not knowingly trying to kill or rape him.
“Whatever they did, as despicable as it is, they didn’t do it knowing the child would die,” James told the jury during opening statements. James said that Torres inserted a stick into his son’s rectum as punishment, and while Isaiah was standing in the corner, Cathy Torres shoved him, which caused the stick to impale the child. That trauma led to internal injuries and sepsis.
The prosecution called to the witness stand two of Isaiah’s former kindergarten teachers from Bentonville’s Ambassadors for Christ Academy, Peri Heffernan and Hannah Welshenbaugh. Both had taken pictures that showed bruises on Isaiah, which were submitted as evidence. Heffernan testified that she had called the Arkansas Department of Human Services with her concerns about child abuse. However, the child welfare investigation that followed evidently did not find evidence to substantiate the claims of abuse, as the Arkansas Times reported in 2015.
Heffernan said she never spoke with an investigator from DHS. When asked what she made of the fact that no one from DHS contacted her, she replied, “I just thought I was wrong about the whole thing.”
The prosecution also called to the witness stand Captain John Cottingham, a Bella Vista firefighter and one of the first responders to the 911 call placed by Cathy Torres on March 29, 2015, and Bella Vista police officer Justin Green, who was one of the responding officers after Cottingham notified the police of the extensive bruising on the boy’s body.
Dr. Mayhue, the emergency room doctor who tried to revive Isaiah, testified that when he told Mauricio and Cathy Torres that their son had died, “there was a complete lack of discernable emotion.” He said they just stared blankly at him. “I’ve never seen that happen before with the death of a child,” he said.
The prosecution then called Captain Tim Cook, lead investigator at the Bella Vista Police Department. Cook interviewed Mauricio Torres after he was arrested on April 6, 2015. The roughly two-and-a-half hour long interview was played for the jury. In it, Torres said his son suffered from aggression and that punishing him had become a family event – even Isaiah’s sisters partook in punishing the boy. Torres talked about how his father used to beat him and discussed his recent weight loss surgery. He admitted to chronic beatings, but denied knowing anything about a rape.
The prosecution told Judge Brad Karren that they intend on presenting two more recorded interviews of Mauricio Torres tomorrow. They also plan on calling a medical examiner and one of Isaiah Torres’ sisters to the witness stand.
Benjamin Hardy contributed to this report.