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Sonoma County judge set to release murder suspect to attend mom’s funeral, then backpedals

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Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Dana Simonds told murder suspect Moses Torres Friday morning she would temporarily release him from jail to attend his mother’s funeral and burial the following day.

By afternoon, following an intervention from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office — a lieutenant proclaiming in court a full SWAT team would be needed to protect the funeral — and the District Attorney’s Office, Simonds told Torres that he would not be going to lay his mother to rest after all.

The 18-year-old Torres is charged with killing his 25-year-old brother, Ivan Torres, in Healdsburg in late March. In the morning in Simonds’ courtroom, prosecutors told the judge that Torres is too dangerous to be allowed to temporarily leave jail, even with sheriff’s deputies escorting him.

“This is absolutely a danger to the community, to let somebody who is in custody for murder to be sent back to the community,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said later in an interview.

However, Simonds was apparently persuaded during the morning hearing by defense attorney Kristine Burk who said Torres has no prior criminal record, and had acted in self-defense while his brother was suffering from a violent schizophrenic episode. Burk told the judge releasing Torres from prison for his mother’s funeral would pose no threat to the community.

The judge then ordered two sheriff’s deputies to escort him to and from the funeral Saturday.

The Sheriff’s Office requested an afternoon hearing on the matter and Simonds obliged, calling all the parties back into her courtroom.

Sheriff’s Lt. John Molinari told Simonds that Ivan Torres had been a gang member. Molinari was not able to point to specific evidence of Torres’ alleged gang ties, telling the judge his connection to gangs was “hearsay” picked up second hand from colleagues.

Scott Emerick, Torres’ attorney at the afternoon hearing, told Simonds he had read every scrap of paper in Ivan Torres’ criminal record, including reports from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation generated during his stint in prison. There was no mention of gangs, Emerick said.

Molinari insisted there were gang ties alleged in the record, but was unable to point to any specifics.

Staebell, however, was able to provide a specific instance of gang allegations against Torres: when Moses Torres was arrested, he said, he was wearing red pants. He told investigators his brother had made a joke earlier in the day that Moses couldn’t wear red around him because of his gang ties, Staebell said.

But Ivan Torres suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, Emerick said, and his declaration that he was a gang member did not serve as solid evidence that he was in fact in a gang.

“He may have made some allegations of gang affiliation. He also made allegations he was being eaten by spiders,” Emerick told the judge.

Because of the threat of gang retaliation against Moses Torres for killing his brother, Molinari said, it would require a full SWAT team to protect the funeral. This simply wasn’t possible on such short notice, he said.

District Attorney Jill Ravitch in an interview described Simonds’ morning decision to release Torres as “outrageous.”

Staebell and Molinari also argued in court that Torres’ defense team had waited too long to ask for permission for Torres to attend the funeral, 10 days after Torres’ mother died June 2.

In an interview after the afternoon hearing, Emerick said they had notified the judge as soon as the family had finalized the details of the funeral and memorial.

In the end, Simonds sided with the prosecutors, declaring that the younger Torres could not attend the funeral because “Mr. Ivan Torres and his homies might do something in response.”

She told Torres “I’m very sorry, sir” and said if there was some way to let him participate in the funeral without leaving jail, she would consider it.

“Mr. Emerick, I don’t know what could possibly be done,” the judge said. “If there is something, please let us know.”

After the hearing, Emerick was visibly emotional.

“When the state uses all of their resources to fight compassion, justice is not served,” the defense attorney said.

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