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Alexander Torres

Other Los Angeles County, California Exonerations
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Just after 7 p.m. on December 31, 2000, Martin Guitron and his friend, Enrique Valdovinos, were walking near Guitron’s house in Paramount, California, about 17 miles south of Los Angeles.

Valdovinos would later tell police that a 1990s blue Chevrolet Caprice stopped in the middle of the road. The driver stayed in the car. The passenger got out and approached Guitron, asking him several times if Guitron was “Casper,” an apparent reference to Guitron’s nickname. Guitron, who was 19 years old, asked the man what he wanted. Finally, the man said, “You are Casper,” and then fatally shot Guitron.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigated the shooting. Deputies recovered five shell casings from a semi-automatic .45-caliber weapon near Guitron’s body.

In his initial interview with a deputy who responded to the shooting, Valdovinos said he did not know the shooter, but he described him as a young Hispanic male, between 16 and 18 years old, wearing a red and yellow long-sleeve plaid shirt, white T-shirt, and baggy pants. He said the man had a bald head and weighed about 150 to 160 pounds. Valdovinos also said that Guitron had been nervous prior to the shooting, because he thought that members of a rival gang, known as Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats (CVTF) were out to get him. Guitron was a member of the Compton Varrio Segundo (CVS) gang.

Later on December 31, Valdovinos told a deputy that he thought the shooter was a member of CVTF. The deputy wrote, “The witness added that numerous CVTF gang members were after the victim because of this and other past altercations with CVTF.”

In a third interview on December 31, Valdovinos told homicide detectives that Guitron had told him three days before his death that a member of CVTF called “Alex” wanted to kill him. But Valdovinos also told detectives that he knew that the Hispanic male with CVTF that he knew as “Alex” was not the person who shot Guitron.

Deputies interviewed Valdovinos again on January 3, 2001. He said that a CVTF member known as “Tweedy” approached him on New Year’s Day and told him not to speak with the police. In a supplemental report of this interview, detectives wrote “Valdovinos explained that victim had told him that ‘Alex’ from Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats had tried to kill him three times in the past week.”

On January 7, Valdovinos contacted the sheriff’s office to report an incident that he said left him afraid. Detectives interviewed him on January 9. Valdovinos said he had been at home when 20-year-old Alexander Torres approached a neighbor.

Valdovinos said he saw Torres talk to the neighbor and place his hands as if holding a gun. Valdovinos said that Torres left. Valdovinos said the neighbor said that Torres was looking for Valdovinos. In this interview, Valdovinos for the first time identified Torres as the shooter.

Deputies interviewed the neighbor. He gave a different version of the events. He said the young man who approached him never asked for Valdovinos. It was only after the man left, the neighbor said, that Valdovinos came by and said that this man could have been the person who shot Guitron. Detectives showed the man a photo array that included Torres. He made no identification.

On January 18, 2001, deputies executed a search warrant at Torres’s house. They did not find any evidence connecting him to the Guitron murder. Still, they arrested Torres and interviewed him about the shooting. Torres said he was a member of CVTF. He also said he was at home on December 31.

He told deputies about his ongoing feud with Guitron and CVS members, whom he said were trying to drive him and his family from their home. Torres said that two months before the shooting, vandals spray-painted his mother’s car with “CVS” graffiti and the word “Casper” in several places. Torres confronted Guitron about the vandalism at a liquor store on December 18, 2000. Their fight left Torres with a broken right hand that required a hard cast.

Torres said that he didn’t like Guitron but he didn’t kill him. “I would never do anything like that,” he said.

Detectives also questioned Torres about a gun he had been seen with on January 16, 2001. He gave inconsistent answers, and he agreed to a polygraph examination, which took place on January 19, 2001. The examiner later reported that Torres showed deception when answering questions about the murder and the gun. Torres again asserted his innocence in Guitron’s death and said he “didn’t have the guts to kill anyone.” He said he had lied because he didn’t want to get himself or a friend in trouble over the gun. Torres was charged with second-degree murder.

Deputies also located a second witness to the shooting. Carlos Arechiga said he was about 200 feet away when he saw the Caprice pull up on Guitron and Valdovinos. He saw the passenger get out, shoot Guitron, and then get back in the car. On February 15, 2001, Deputies showed Arechiga a six-pack photo array. He selected the photo of Torres, and said, through a translator, “This looks like him.”

Torres went to trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court in June 2001.

Valdovinos testified that Torres shot Guitron, and that the gang member known as “Tweedy” had told him that Torres was the shooter. He testified that he lied to the police when he initially told deputies that he could not identify the shooter but that he changed his mind after Torres visited his neighbor.

Hilario Salcedo testified that Torres offered to sell him a .45-caliber gun in the days after the shooting. Investigators later located that weapon and determined that it wasn’t the gun used to shoot Guitron.

Martha Roca, one of Torres’s sisters, testified about the vandalism of her mother’s car. Roca said that in the weeks prior to his death, Guitron had approached her in an aggressive manner and she had responded by striking him with her car.

Deputy Darren Diviak with the sheriff’s department testified as a gang expert. He said that the vandalism of the car would be considered a serious transgression between rival gangs. He also testified that witnesses can be afraid to testify in criminal cases involving gang members.

Arechiga testified that he had been afraid to testify. He said that he never said Torres was the shooter, only that he picked his photo out of the array because Torres “looked like” the shooter. He said he was “far from the scene” at the time of the shooting.

Torres did not testify but his defense was built around alibi witnesses who said he was with them for all or part of the night of December 31 and around medical records that supported his claim of an injury to his hand and a cast on his hand that was not mentioned in any witness reports.

Martha Hernandez, Torres’s mother, testified that her son was with her that evening, and she helped him clean the house because of his broken hand. But another witness contradicted her account, testifying that Hernandez told her that Torres couldn’t have shot Guitron because he was at a friend’s house at the time.

Jose Cruz testified that he was with Torres at Torres’s house from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on December 31. He said that Torres had a cast on his arm that night and that Torres had asked him to remove the cast in early January. Cruz refused to do so because he wasn’t a doctor.

Sandra Torres, another of Torres’s sister, testified that her brother was wearing a cast in December 2000. A defense photograph from December 17, 2000, showed Torres wearing a cast. His medical records were not in order, because when Torres went to the hospital he used a false name – although his correct date of birth – because he didn’t have health insurance.

On June 12, 2001, the jury convicted Torres of second-degree murder. He was later sentenced to 40 years to life in prison; 15 years to life for the murder conviction with a 25-year gun enhancement.

Torres appealed his conviction, arguing the evidence was insufficient and that the judge should have given the jury instructions about convicting Torres of involuntary manslaughter. California’s Second District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction on April 16, 2003.

In 2006, Pedro Torres, Torres’s brother, received a phone call from a friend who told him that a person known as Individual 1 had information about the Guitron shooting. Pedro Torres met Individual 1 at a bar, and this person told him that he had been going to a party near Guitron’s house on December 31, 2000. He gave a ride to another person, known as Individual 2, and this person spotted Guitron and Valdovinos on the street. Individual 1 said Individual 2 asked him to go back to Individual 2’s house to get a gun so he could scare Guitron and Valdovinos. Individual 1 said he saw Individual 2 shoot Guitron and that Alexander Torres wasn’t involved.

Pedro Torres and a private investigator met with Individual 1 in December 2006. He repeated much of what he told Torres earlier, but he would not make a formal statement. In January 2007, the investigator received a letter from Individual 1’s attorney instructing the investigator not to contact Individual 1.

In 2021, after the California Innocence Project investigated Torres’s claims of innocence, the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office opened its own investigation into the case.

The CIU found an arrest report for Individual 1 from February 2001 that said he was the owner of a 1991 blue Caprice. Other records said that Individual 2 lived around the corner from the shooting. This lined up with the accounts of witnesses who said that they saw the Caprice drive down the street and then come back a few minutes later.

Individual 2 closely resembled Torres in height, weight and physical appearance. He had been arrested on robbery charges in August 2001, and deputies had seized a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The weapon was destroyed in 2007, but it was the same caliber as the gun used to kill Guitron, the CIU said.

Torres told the CIU that he encountered Individual 2 in prison after learning of his identity and asked him “Do you know who I am? Do you know what I’m in for?” The man said he couldn’t help Torres and walked away.

The CIU also obtained medical reports, including a radiology report of Torres’s hand from December 19, 2000. The report said Torres received a hard cast for an injury to the fifth metacarpal bone in his right hand. Typically, the casts cover the entire hand except for the fingertips and leaves a person with limited dexterity.

On October 19, 2021, Torres’s attorneys and the district attorney’s office filed a joint petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Judge William Ryan granted the petition and approved a motion to dismiss the charge. Torres was released from prison that day.

The investigation into Guitron’s death continued. On November 30, 2021, sheriff’s deputies arranged for Individual 2 to be moved to the Los Angeles County Jail under the guise of resentencing. Individual 2 was placed in a monitored cell, but he didn’t make any incriminating statements to the other occupants. Individual 1 was also arrested. Deputies interviewed him about the Guitron murder, and Individual 1 declined to answer questions. Deputies held Individual 1 for 48 hours, and they monitored his conversations with Individual 2, who criticized Individual 1 for getting involved and harming Individual 2’s chances of being released from prison.

On April 7, 2022, the parties filed a joint motion for a finding of factual innocence. The motion said, “There is not a single reliable or credible piece of evidence that Torres committed the crime for which he was convicted and served over twenty years in prison.”

It also said that, “As a result of everything learned during the CIU investigation and the interactions observed between Individual 1 and Individual 2 while both were in custody, the LASD detectives are convinced Individual 1 and Individual 2 are the true perpetrators.”

Judge William Ryan granted the motion of factual innocence on April 13, 2022.

District Attorney George Gascon apologized to Torres and said in a statement, “While it is this office’s job to hold people accountable for the harm they cause, it is equally important that we critically reexamine past convictions.”

In May 2022, Torres was awarded $1,061,200 in compensation from the state of California.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 6/21/2022
Last Updated: 7/1/2022
State:California
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:40 years to Life
Race/Ethnicity:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No