A Grandview man has been charged with his 2-year-old son’s death, more than two years after doctors discovered the lethargic Kennewick toddler had a brain injury.
Mario Torres, 34, has denied causing the injuries as he watched his son while the boy’s mother went Christmas shopping.
Four days later, Nicholas I. Torres died in a Spokane hospital.
The Dec. 26, 2014, death has been ruled a homicide from ongoing abuse resulting in extensive brain trauma.
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Nicholas also was found to have older wounds, including a possible displaced shoulder.
Mario Torres is charged in Benton County Superior Court with first-degree manslaughter. It includes the aggravating circumstances of victim vulnerability and domestic violence.
Torres currently is being held in the Sunnyside jail on an unrelated case.
A warrant has been issued for him with $100,000 bail. He will be transported to Benton County in the next week for a Jan. 19 court appearance on the new charge.
Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sullivan explained that it took some time to gather all medical, Child Protective Services and police reports related to the father and son.
She also sought an opinion from Dr. Rebecca T. Wiester, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, based on Nicholas’ medical and autopsy records. Wiester determined the toddler suffered from “chronic and repeated child abuse.”
Dr. Rebecca T. Wiester, pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, determined the toddler suffered from “chronic and repeated child abuse,” according to court documents.
“Then it was just reviewing everything and making a decision,” said Sullivan.
Torres already has a third-degree assault of a child conviction from Yakima County, Sullivan said. He reportedly caused a brain injury to Nicholas in 2012 when the boy was a baby.
Torres also has done six months in the Benton County jail for encouraging an older son to “just make up lies” when investigators asked him what happened the day before his little brother’s hospitalization.
Torres entered an Alford plea to the felony charge, two months after Nicholas’ death, saying he wasn’t guilty but believed a jury would convict him based on the evidence. He is appealing that conviction.
The toddler’s mother, Nicole Bernal, has not been charged. “Right now we’re focusing on Mario Torres,” said Sullivan.
Search warrant documents filed after Nicholas died showed Kennewick police had to sort through conflicting reports from the boy’s parents and relatives during the investigation.
Bernal told police that Nicholas had been about 2 months old when he was taken from her because of his previous head injury. She said her son was returned to her in April 2014.
Torres and Bernal occasionally lived together in her Kennewick apartment.
Bernal initially told investigators she was the only person caring for Nicholas in the days before he was hospitalized, and that Torres had not seen the toddler for a month. She claimed Nicholas wasn’t feeling well, possibly had the flu, and acting “grumpy.”
Bernal changed her story to say Torres was left alone with Nicholas and his older son on Dec. 22, while she went shopping. She said she was gone for about four hours, and Torres told her Nicholas “slumped over and went to sleep” after throwing a tantrum, court documents show.
Bernal admitted she was worried about getting in trouble and losing her children because she wasn’t supposed to have contact with Torres.
Nicholas reportedly slept for about 24 hours before a relative intervened and encouraged Bernal to take the toddler to a clinic.
Torres and Bernal had put the toddler in a bathtub and poured cold water over his head, but he didn’t wake up and his neck was limp, documents said.
The toddler reportedly slept for about 24 hours before a relative intervened and encouraged his mother to take the toddler to a clinic. The parents had put the boy in a bathtub and poured cold water over his head, but he didn’t wake up and his neck was limp, documents said.
A Trios Southridge Hospital doctor told Torres that his son was going to be moved to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane because of the gravity of his injuries.
The doctor then added that he was contacting CPS and law enforcement because of adult-sized bite marks on the boy, and Torres reportedly left the emergency room soon after, court documents said.
Torres claimed he had been playing video games with his older son and found Nicholas slumped over in another room. He said he asked the toddler if he was OK, then gave him chips and a toy and left him alone, documents said. He later found his son in the same position and put him in bed.
After her son died, Bernal told detectives she wanted to “come clean and tell the truth,” and said Torres had told her that Nicholas fell and hit his head on a bed frame, documents said.
Torres’ older son reported hearing a “big bang” and crying when his father was in a bedroom with Nicholas. The boy said his father told him he accidentally backed into Nicholas, causing the toddler to fall and hit the side of his head, according to court documents.
The boy said Torres and Bernal got into an argument when she returned home, and that he never saw his younger brother awake again.
He said Torres and Bernal had talked to him privately and “told him to lie about the situation” by claiming that his brother had gotten up and eaten chicken nuggets that night, documents said.
A Spokane doctor determined that Nicholas suffered a brain injury from being deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time, court documents said.