SAN JOSE — A woman was convicted Thursday of child endangerment and being an accessory to her toddler son’s 2016 killing, even after her fiance was acquitted earlier this summer of the murder charge that was the basis of her prosecution.
Samantha Torres, 27, of San Jose, had also been charged with lying under oath to protect Manuel Lopez, to whom she was engaged when her 2-year-old son Apollo died Jan. 16, 2016 and was determined to have been the victim of chronic physical abuse and suspected sexual assault.
Lopez was charged with a death-penalty murder and sexual assault, and a jury found him not guilty in June after the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office argued that DNA evidence used to implicate Lopez was not conclusive and was analyzed with outdated techniques.
But that acquittal had no bearing on Torres’ case, which still centered on the contention that Lopez raped and killed Apollo in the culmination of months of abuse that prosecutors said Torres failed to report or disclose to medical professionals. She was also accused of giving false testimony during Lopez’s preliminary examination.
“We didn’t agree with (the Lopez verdict) and we respect the jury for their time, but our theory about the crime hasn’t changed,” Deputy District Attorney Angela Bernhard said. “Our belief that Samantha was an accessory after the fact to that murder is not really impacted by that jury’s verdict.”
Deputy Alternate Defender Al Lopez, who represented Torres, said the verdict is yet another trauma to her family after the death of Apollo and her being held in county jail since January 2019.
“It’s obviously disappointing that the jury convicted her,” Al Lopez said. “Unfortunately for Samantha, they had her locked up for 20 months already. It was pointless for us to even go to trial since she was incarcerated so long.”
He added that even though Torres faces around a seven-year maximum prison sentence, she could get about a third of that under Proposition 57, the 2016 voter-approved initiative that expanded parole eligibility and sentencing credits for nonviolent crimes. That would mean given time served, she could be free in a matter of months and potentially sooner with COVID-19 jail amnesty for people with expiring sentences.
When Apollo died, he was determined to have been the victim of severe physical injuries including broken bones from head to toe, and scores of bruises, abrasions and lacerations. Injuries to the child’s rectum and genitals, and investigators’ initial finding that a swab of the boy’s rectum tested “presumptively positive for the presence of semen,” led to the sexual-assault allegation being added to the murder charge against Lopez.
“Apollo lived a nightmare in the year leading up to his death. Samantha Torres failed to protect Apollo from her fiance, and then chose to protect her fiance during the subsequent murder investigation and prosecution,” Deputy District Attorney Lance Daugherty said in a statement. “We thank this jury for seeing the truth.”
Al Lopez contends that Torres should have been treated as a victim by authorities, and that victim services for her were not robust enough to ensure she got needed mental-health treatment. He said Torres’ family continues to believe that Lopez was responsible for Apollo’s death.
“Even though she did make a mistake in having a relationship with Manuel, it wasn’t her fault,” he said.
The case gained additional notoriety after two renowned county pediatricians were fired on the grounds they failed to report possible child abuse when the child was treated about six months before with arm fractures. One of the fired physicians sued the county and her superiors in federal court, contending she was scapegoated and that her career was ruined. A federal judge dismissed part of the case in 2018, and it was re-filed in the county court, where records show mediation failed and a trial setting hearing is scheduled in November.
Between Lopez’s acquittal and Torres’ conviction, her family is struggling to find any peace, Al Lopez said.
“It’s sad she was taken away from her kids and her family. Even during the verdict of Manuel’s case, she didn’t get the opportunity to heal with them,” he said. “My hopes are she receives probation and is sent to mental-health treatment so she can get the help she needs to recover from this.”
Torres is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 28.
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Author: Robert Salonga