A Grandview man charged with manslaughter for killing his 2-year-old son is trying to regain contact with an older child.
And the state Court of Appeals says a Tri-City judge needs to do a better job of explaining why the man shouldn’t be allowed to connect with his other son.
Mario Torres, 35, has a fundamental right to parent his child, the state Court of Appeals said in its 10-page opinion.
That relationship was hindered when Benton County Judge Cameron Mitchell imposed a five-year no-contact order in 2015 — 10 times longer than the state’s six-month recommendation, the opinion said
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The no-contact order was the result of Torres’ conviction for telling the boy to “make up lies” during the death investigation of his other son.
Torres’ defense attorney argued against the order, reportedly telling Mitchell that Torres played an active role in his then-11-year-old son’s life.
“We are unable to discern the court’s likely reasoning from the limited information presented,” Judge Rebecca L. Pennell wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel. “It is the trial court’s duty to balance the competing interests impacted by a no-contact order.”
The only communication allowed between the father and son is mail, which must first be screened by the boy’s mother.
The appellate court sent the witness tampering case back to Benton County Superior Court for Mitchell to reconsider the no-contact order.
Mitchell has been directed to address whether the order “remains reasonably necessary in light of the state’s interests in protecting (the boy) from harm.”
We are unable to discern the court’s likely reasoning from the limited information presented. It is the trial court’s duty to balance the competing interests impacted by a no-contact order.
Judge Rebecca L. Pennell, state Court of Appeals
She said he also should consider less restrictive alternatives, such as supervised visitations, before restricting all personal contact between the father and son.
Mitchell “should keep in mind that a sentencing proceeding is not the ideal forum for addressing parenting issues,” the opinion said. “Our juvenile and family courts are better equipped to resolve custody questions, including whether restrictions should be placed on parent-child contact.”
The appellate judges noted that the state Legislature has directed that outside those kinds of cases, a parent-child no-contact order should not last longer than one year unless it is specifically renewed.
Torres was charged this January with killing his 2-year-old son through repeated abuse resulting in extensive brain trauma.
It took nearly two years for prosecutors to gather all medical, Child Protective Services and police reports related to the father and son before deciding whether to file charges.
Torres is in the Benton County jail in lieu of $75,000 bail. He has a July 3 trial date for first-degree manslaughter with the aggravating circumstances of victim vulnerability and domestic violence.
He was caring for his son on Dec. 22, 2014, while the toddler’s mother went Christmas shopping. She returned to her Kennewick apartment to find Nicholas Torres was lethargic and somewhat responsive.
Nicholas Torres died Dec. 26, 2014, at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane. The coroner ruled his death a homicide.
Mario Torres’ older son had been in the apartment with him that day, and he later told the boy to keep quiet about the toddler bumping his head and to make up a story about his younger brother.
He entered an Alford plea in February 2015 to encouraging his older son to lie, and did six months in jail. His conviction was affirmed by the appellate court.