- Associated Press - Thursday, April 18, 2019

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Supreme Court ordered a new trial Thursday for a death row inmate who was convicted in the killing of his 6-year-old son, whom investigators say died from an infection caused by the father sexually assaulting him with a stick.

Justices overturned the 2016 capital murder conviction of Mauricio Alejandro Torres. Investigators say Mauricio Alejandro Torres assaulted his son Isaiah during a family camping trip in Missouri in 2015. Torres’ attorneys have said his actions were intended as punishment, not sexual gratification, and the father didn’t know they could kill the boy.

But Thursday’s 4-3 ruling centered on the fact that the assault occurred in Missouri. The justices ruled that meant Arkansas authorities couldn’t use rape as a justification for the capital murder conviction. The boy died at an Arkansas hospital a day after the assault. A medical examiner said chronic child abuse was a significant contributing factor to his death.

“If Torres could not have been charged in this state, that necessarily means that the elements of rape could not have been met in this state,” Justice Karen Baker wrote. “If the elements of rape cannot be met, rape cannot serve as an element of capital murder.”

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge criticized the court’s ruling.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to give a new trial to this monster who brutally sodomized his 6-year old son with a stick which lead to the youngster’s death,” Rutledge said in a statement issued by her office. “I am determining next steps to ensure justice is served for these despicable, evil acts.”

Torres’ wife, Cathy, pleaded guilty in 2017 to capital murder for her role in the boy’s death and was sentenced to life without parole.

A justice who split from the majority’s ruling said that the boy’s death gave Arkansas jurisdiction to convict Torres of capital murder.

“An essential part of the crime, Isaiah’s death, has clearly occurred in Arkansas,” Justice Shawn Womack wrote in a dissenting opinion. “Under both our precedent and the controlling statute, jurisdiction clearly lies in this state.”

Prosecutors had presented two alternative theories for convicting Torres of capital murder, one because of the rape claim and another because of child abuse. The high court said it couldn’t determine which theory the jury used for its conviction.

“It’s an important decision because it should impact how other trials are conducted in the future when a defendant is charged alternatively,” Jeff Rosenzweig, an attorney for Torres, said.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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