NM fighter may face prosecution for home defense

Thursday, January 09, 2014

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, four men broke into the mobile home of Joseph Torrez in Las Cruces, NM. Present in the home at the time were Torrez, his fiance, their 2-year-old son, and the fiance’s sister.

One attacker was armed with a sharp length of broken off baseball bat. Another reportedly picked up a knife on the premises. According to Torrez’s lawyer, C.J. McElhinney, the four men were associated with the East Side Locos gang, and have prior convictions for violent crimes. One of the home invaders was even wearing an electronic ankle bracelet.

Torrez, who has been training for nearly a decade at Gracie Barra Las Cruces, and fights professionally in mixed martial arts, was able to drive the intruders from his home.

In the process, Sal Garces, 25, who entered the home with the wooden shank, was killed. Nathan Avalos, 20, was hospitalized, and arrested when released. Leonard Calvillo, 22, who called Torrez on the phone saying “I’ll kill you and your family … I’ll go to your house,” fled and was later arrested, as was the fourth attacker, Raymond Garces, 19, brother of the deceased. Also arrested were two women who accompanied the four to the home.

The attack is believed to have been precipitated by an incident involving the 17-year-old sister of Torrez’s fiance at a New Year’s Eve Party earlier in the evening. Mr. Elhinney said that the young woman got into some type of altercation there with one or more members of the arrested group. The 17 year old then went to the Torrez home as a safety precaution.

Her judgement proved to be correct – her older sister’s fiancee was able to protect his family. However, MMA Junkie is now reporting that prosecutors will decide this month whether or not to prosecute Torrez.

Joe Torrez’s problem appears to be that he won. If the four attackers had made good on their threat, and killed him, attacked his fiance’s sister, and wreaked who knows what havoc on the remaining mother and child, it would be cut and dried. But he defended himself ably, alone killing an armed home intruder, injuring another, and forcing two more to flee, all without a firearm.

Joe Torrez deserves the keys to the city, not a possible legal fight.

Dona Ana County (N.M.) District Attorney Mark D’Antonio said police will recreate the crime scene and use forensic evidence to determine whether Torrez acted in self defense during the invasion on New Year’s Day in Las Cruces.

“Mr. Torrez has not been charged with a crime, and I won’t make any decision in the case until I’m satisfied that the case has been thoroughly investigated,” said D’Antonio.

D’Antonio said Torrez’s background as an MMA fighter will have “absolutely no bearing” on the decision and said his office will focus on whether his use of force was reasonable given the circumstances.

“It’s my belief that just because you’re gifted with certain skills, or size, or ability, makes no difference to me,” D’Antonio said. “If you’re 6-foot-9 and 350 pounds, as long as you act reasonably, then you’re covered. It’s just the same as if you were a 125-pound non-fighter weakling.”

McElhinney said police told him this past week that Torrez would be criminally charged, which prompted him to advise his client against cooperating in the case. He said authorities shifted course when public support emerged for the fighter.

The attorney also said he has hired a retired homicide detective to run a parallel investigation.

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The Albuquerque Journal provided further details.

Charges have not been pressed against Joseph Torrez, 27, but District Attorney Mark D’Antonio on Tuesday said he could not formally clear Torrez until he knows the “full dynamics of the situation.” At issue, he said, is whether Torrez acted with “reasonable force.”

“Was there the appearance of immediate danger?” D’Antonio said at a news conference at county headquarters. “Was the homeowner put in fear of apparent injury, death or great bodily harm? Would a reasonable person feel they were under some sort of threat? What’s really important to understand folks is, when you respond in self-defense, you have to respond with reasonable force. Those are the parameters the investigators will be investigating.”

Torrez’s attorney C.J. McElhinney says Torrez acted in self-defense.

“Every American has the right to defend their home, their family and their life, and that is exactly what my client was doing on Jan. 1,” McElhinney said following the news conference.

McElhinney said his client stopped collaborating with investigators last week “when it became clear to me that the police were not investigating the four people and possibly others that were involved in this break-in.”

“My client is going to be more than willing to testify against these people in court,” he said. “All we are asking is that these people who have been arrested stand trial and face justice.”

D’Antonio said the investigation and analysis could take weeks.

“There are a lot of moving parts in these cases,” he said.

The sheriff’s office indicated at least half a dozen investigators are working on the case.

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