Arkansas man’s retrial under way in sodomy killing of 6-year-old son for eating cake without asking

A man accused of killing his 6-year-old son in 2015 by sodomizing him with a stick and forcing him to do squats is on trial for the second time in an Arkansas courtroom.

Mauricio Alejandro Torres, 50, of Bella Vista, is charged with capital murder and first-degree battery, according to Benton County Jail records. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Opening statements in the case began Thursday. On Friday, jurors heard from the emergency room doctor who tried to save Mauricio “Isaiah” Torres’s life when he was brought to Mercy Bella Vista Medical Center the night of March 29, 2015.

"He had wounds all over his body," Dr. Franklin Mayhue said, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette. "This was an extreme picture of a child who was not only dead, but dead from a bizarre situation."

Mayhue also testified about the lack of reaction Torres and his wife, Cathy Lynn Torres, had when he told them their son had died.

"There was an absence of a normal grieving response from parents that lost a child," Mayhue said.

Two of Isaiah Torres’ former teachers testified Thursday afternoon about the concerns they had for his welfare during the 2013-2014 school year. Peri Heffernan, his kindergarten teacher, and music teacher Hannah Paul both told of seeing multiple large bruises on the boy’s body.

The women also testified that Isaiah stole other children's lunches and scavenged food from the trash, the Democrat Gazette reported. Heffernan took photos of his bruises and reported her concerns to the state child abuse hotline.

No one ever responded to the report, the teachers testified. The following school year, Isaiah did not return to the school because his parents began homeschooling him.

Paul described what Isaiah was like when he was in her class.

"He had a great smile and contagious joy," Paul said, according to the newspaper. "He was a great kid."

Mauricio Torres was found guilty Nov. 15, 2016, of both charges in the death of his son, but his conviction was later overturned. According to the Democrat Gazette, a medical examiner testified at the first trial that Isaiah died of a bacterial infection he developed after being sodomized during a family vacation in Missouri.

Isaiah died early the morning of March 30 after the family had returned home.

Cathy Torres pleaded guilty to capital murder and battery in March 2017 and was sentenced to serve life in prison without parole. Though she didn't testify at her husband's first trial, she is on the prosecution's list of potential witnesses the second time around, the Democrat Gazette reported.

"As part of her plea agreement, Cathy Torres agreed to provide truthful testimony if needed," Benton County Prosecuting Attorney Nathan Smith said, according to the newspaper. "Pursuant to the court order, we filed a witness list including everyone we may need to call at trial so that the defendant will be on notice of all potential witnesses. The actual decision of which witnesses to call will be made closer to trial as the case unfolds."

Jail records show Cathy Torres, 48, was transferred last week to the Benton County Jail for the trial. She is usually housed at the Arkansas Department of Corrections' McPherson Women's Unit near Newport, according to prison records.

Editor’s note: The following portion of the story contains graphic details that may be disturbing to some readers. 

According to court records, Mauricio Torres and his wife, Cathy Torres, were camping March 29, 2015, with Isaiah and their two daughters when they awoke to find Isaiah had eaten some cake without their permission.

“For the offense of eating cake without permission, Isaiah was punished by inserting a stick into his rectum and forcing him to do squats,” the court documents say.

In his confession, Mauricio Torres described Isaiah’s punishment to police by saying that spanking the boy never worked.

"I just put the stick in his bottom again, you know. Like you said, that power. And I said, 'In the corner, you know, up and down,'" Torres told investigators.

Cathy Torres became angry that Isaiah was “not squatting fast enough,” so she pushed him down.

“This drove the stick deeper inside of Isaiah’s body and pierced his rectum,” the documents say.

Credit: Benton County Jail

Credit: Benton County Jail

Over the next several hours, Isaiah became ill. By the time they got home that night, he was unresponsive.

"(Mauricio) Torres did not seek medical care for Isaiah until nearly midnight. When emergency responders arrived, Isaiah was in cardiac arrest," the records say. "He was transported to a hospital in Benton County, Arkansas, but soon died."

Isaiah’s official cause of death was acute fecal purulent peritonitis, or a bacterial infection of the abdominal cavity that occurred after feces entered through his torn rectum. The feces and subsequent pus that developed killed the boy.

The forensic pathologist who conducted his autopsy also found extensive injuries on the boy’s body, in various stages of healing, and describing his condition as a “textbook case of chronic child abuse,” according to the records.

"Thick scar tissue lined the interior of Isaiah's skull cap from repeated, significant and traumatic head injuries," the court documents say. "Isaiah's nose had been broken, flattened and deformed. His teeth had been forcibly removed. The injuries on his back included severe bruising, chemical burns and multiple lacerations resembling whip marks. His hands and arms were covered in defensive wounds. And, shortly before his death, Isaiah sustained substantial and traumatic blows to his head and a blunt force injury encompassing his chest, back and abdomen."

The boy’s sister testified at their father’s trial that Isaiah was regularly beaten with a cable and with the stick that caused his death. The chemical burns he suffered were caused by his being forced to bathe with bleach, she said.

"Torres had removed Isaiah's teeth with pliers as punishment for speaking ill of him," the documents say. "He had forced Isaiah to consume his feces and urine. Moreover, Isaiah's blood was found spattered throughout the Bella Vista home and the Missouri camper."

Jurors found Mauricio Torres guilty of both charges and sentenced him to death.

Both his conviction and death sentence were overturned last year after his attorneys successfully argued that the judge erred in denying him a directed verdict on one of two theories of the crime: that the murder either took place during the course of a rape or as the result of child abuse.

The underlying crime in either scenario was necessary for a death sentence to apply in Torres’ case.

"First, the circuit court erred because the alleged acts did not meet the elements of rape as rape was defined in Missouri when the alleged offense occurred," the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled. "Second, the alleged acts did not occur in Arkansas; therefore, Arkansas law could not have applied."

The defense also argued that, because the rape felony murder case was legally insufficient, and it was unclear if the jury convicted Torres on the basis of rape or child abuse, his conviction should be overturned and the case remanded for a new trial.

The justices found that, while death was the consequence of the rape, it was not an element of the crime. The state, they said, could not prove that an element of the underlying crime took place in Arkansas, and prosecutors could not establish that Arkansas had jurisdiction to accuse Torres of raping his son.

"Because of this, the rape felony murder is insufficient, which in turn taints the entire verdict because the jury completed a general verdict form," the court ruled. "Stated differently … because of the general-verdict-form formulation, we are unable to determine which formula -- rape felony murder or child abuse-murder -- the jury based its conviction on."

Torres’ conviction and sentence were overturned by a 4-3 vote.

Read the Arkansas Supreme Court ruling below. Warning: The document contains graphic details of Isaiah Torres’ death. 

Smith, who also prosecuted Torres the first time, spoke out against the high court's ruling to 5News in Fayetteville last year.

"The vote of one justice invalidated the will of 12 jurors in Benton County and forces the victim's family and the survivors to go through this again, so it's a hard day for them, and it was hard to tell them that, and it's just unfortunate," Smith said, according to the news station.

One of the jurors in Torres’ first trial also discussed the proceedings and the difficulties the jury faced in determining whether or not to ask for a man’s execution.

"We all agreed on it, and before we even walked out of that room to get the bailiff and tell them we made a decision, we all sat there and prayed about our decision, and I think that speaks volumes for itself, because a lot of people weren't religious, but we all came together and said, 'We need to pray about this decision,'" Kacie Alverson said.

She said the two-week trial was something she will never forget.

"Those pictures are forever ingrained in my mind. Watching the autopsy and all that stuff is forever ingrained in my mind," Alverson told 5News.

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