The Weekly Vista
Jury selection for Torres’ murder trial
BENTONVILLE — Jury selection scheduled to begin Monday in the third trial for a Bella Vista man accused of killing his 6-yearold son was postponed due to the closing of the Benton County Courthouse due to inclement weather.
Mauricio Alejandro Torres, 53, is charged with capital murder and battery. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted of capital murder, Torres will be sentenced to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole or the death penalty.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Jury selection was to begin as soon as the weather improved enough to reopen the courthouse.
Prospective jurors were ordered to report Monday for the first portion of jury selection.
Benton County Circuit Judge Brad Karren was to question the group before putting their names in groups of three and giving them times to report for the attorneys to ask their questions as they select the jury.
Jury selection is expected to take a few days. The trial is expected to last several days after that.
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 be given a new trial. The high court ruled prosecutors hadn’t proven their case to warrant the death penalty.
A second jury found Torres guilty of murder and battery charges. 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 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 Karren’s decision, but the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed with Karren.
During a hearing on Jan. 20, Karren asked Jeff Rosenzweig, Torres’ attorney, about having Torres wear a stun belt, which al
allows a deputy to send an electric shock in response to a disturbance or escape attempt.
Rosenzweig said he did not see a need for a stun belt because Torres had behaved well during six weeks of the two past trials. Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith agreed with Rosenzweig.
Karren ordered that Torres not appear in the stun belt or in shackles in court. Sheriff’s deputies can have a stun belt on Torres while he’s being transported to court, but it will be removed before he enters the courtroom.
Smith has headed the prosecution’s team on the prior trials. Bryan Sexton, chief deputy prosecutor, and Brynna Barnica, deputy prosecutor, are also on the prosecution’s team this time; they were not involved in the earlier trials.
Rosenzweig is being assisted with the defense by Bill James and George Morledge. The three worked on the two earlier trials.
Karren issued a gag order prohibiting the attorneys from publicly commenting on the case.
Maurice Isaiah Torres died March 30, 2015, at a Bella Vista medical clinic, according to court documents. Torres is accused of shoving a stick in his son’s rectum, causing an infection that led to the boy’s death. Prosecutors presented evidence showing the boy was repeatedly abused.
During both of Torres’ first two trials, a medical examiner testified the boy’s death was caused by a bacterial infection resulting from sodomy and chronic child abuse.
Cathy Torres, Mauricio Torres’ wife, pleaded guilty in 2016 to capital murder and battery and was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. She testified during Torres’ second trial and blamed her husband for abusing their son. She is on the witness list for the third trial. She was recently transferred from prison to the Benton County Jail.