A judge will decide in July whether to set aside Jose Torres’ 2002 conviction for murder. Hon. Francis Affronti presided over Torres’ trial and a two-day hearing this week on new evidence.
The main new evidence is the confession of Angel “Massacre” Carrasquillo to the July 4, 2001 shooting of Miguel Cruz on Hollister St. Carrasquillo testified Wednesday that he is the killer, and Torres had nothing to do with the crime.
Carrasquillo is serving life without parole for a 2002 murder.
Police say Torres confessed to the murder in 2001, but he says he has no recollection of a confession and was drunk and high.
“The first thing the judge has to do is compare the testimony of the previous trial to what he heard over the course of the last two days here,” said Torres’ attorney, David Abbatoy. “Essentially, he’s going to be looking at whether or not the evidence that we heard here today would have changed the result had if received at the prior trial. Our argument is most certainly it would.”
Prosecutors did not present any evidence Carrasquillo and Torres coordinated this new evidence. Evidence was introduced that the pair never communicated during their time in prison.
Carrasquillo’s cousin, Steven Rivera, testified he was almost positive he saw Carrasquillo running away from the murder scene holding a gun and pulling off a mask. Rivera said Carrasquillo later told him he was indeed the killer.
Carrasquillo testified he had an accomplice, but would not reveal that person’s name.
Prosecutors called Jessica Spradlin to the stand. She was with Cruz when he was killed. She testified the killer could not have been Carrasquillo, because the killer had a “different build.” However, in 2001, Spradlin told police the killer was shorter than Cruz. Torres and Cruz were the same height – 6’3″, while Carrasquillo is 5’8″. Spradlin also testified Thursday she didn’t get a good look at the shooter and has been trying for 15 years to put the incident out of her mind.
Prosecutors also called Ariel Echevarria to the stand. Rivera testified he may have been with him when he saw Carrasquillo run away from the murder scene. Rivera was outside Echevarria’s mother’s house. Echevarria testified he was not home at the time. He also said he wants nothing to do with the case and doesn’t want to face consequences if he implicated anyone.
Prosecutors pointed out while questioning Carrasquillo he seemingly has nothing to lose, because he’s never getting out of prison. Carrasquillo said he could get a different prisoner classification, denying him conjugal visits and certain jobs. He could also face retaliation from anyone associated with Cruz.
“Angel Carrasquillo is being punished for his crimes, but he can be punished worse and he testified that he believes that is likely and he has something to lose,” Abbatoy said. “And in fact he has almost everything to lose and he doesn’t have much, but it’s all of it.”
Attorneys for both sides will give written closing arguments in June. The judge will render a written decision in July.
If a judge sets aside Torres’ conviction, the district attorney could dismiss the case, retry Torres or appeal. The DA could also decide to charge Carrasquillo, but Abbatoy says that doesn’t seem likely.
“It’s unfortunate they believe, that they’ve referred to confession of a crime together with corroborated independent testimony as being ‘meager evidence,'” said Abbatoy. “I know there are many people in state prison right now doing life on similar or less facts. I would suggest that’s not meager evidence.”
The prosecutor left court without talking to the media.