Missing woman’s son is freed. Murder charges are dropped

The case against a Richland man accused of helping to kill his mother has been dropped.

Carlos Torres Rodriguez, 31, walked out of the Franklin County jail a free man on Tuesday morning, shortly after prosecutors announced they were dismissing the charges.

Torres Rodriguez had been charged with first-degree murder for the March 28 disappearance and presumed death of his mother, Estela Torres Rodriguez.

He was locked up for 34 days with $1 million bail, and was the third relative charged, along with his father and a brother.

“It’s a month of his life in jail for something which he wasn’t involved in,” said lawyer Deric Orr, who represents Carlos Torres Rodriguez.

Prosecutor Shawn Sant filed the motion to dismiss without prejudice in Franklin County Superior Court.

That means his office can re-file charges in the future “if and when deemed appropriate,” said Sant.

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Estela Torres Rodriguez

Insufficient information for a jury

He made the decision after recently meeting with Franklin County sheriff’s detectives and further evaluating the facts and evidence in the case.

Sant said he believes additional information is needed in order to take the case before a jury. The trial was set for later this month.

The 54-year-old grandmother went missing from 140 Orchard Road near Pasco.

Investigators have said Estela likely was killed inside the home based on three large blood stains discovered on the living room carpet, along with other evidence including her clothes and jewelry in the garbage.

Her body has not been found, though her abandoned SUV was found the following week at a Highway 395 rest stop.

Father and brother still wanted

Prosecutors had charged Carlos Torres Rodriguez with premeditated intent in causing his mother’s death, either by helping his father and brother with the actual killing or helping rob her and she died as the crime was committed.

His father Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez, 63, and brother Clemente Rodriguez Torres, 33, are believed to have fled to Mexico in the days after Estela went missing.

Franklin County Sheriffs are looking for Estela Torres Rodriguez who has been missing since March 28. They are also hunting for Tiburcio Larios Rodriguez and Clemente Rodriguez-Torres who are wanted in connection with her disappearance.

The Prosser men also are charged with first-degree murder and have nationwide arrest warrants with $1 million bail.

Charging documents against Carlos Torres Rodriguez said he got another brother and his girlfriend to leave the house for breakfast, then delayed their return. That gave the two alleged killers time to confront Estela and then clean up, said investigators.

‘An ethical obligation to dismiss’

Sant said even if Estela’s body was discovered today, less than three weeks would not be enough time to complete necessary reports before taking the case against Carlos Torres Rodriguez to trial.

“The Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office is committed to justice for all parties including victims, witnesses, law enforcement and the accused,” Sant later said in a news release. “We have an ethical obligation to dismiss the charges when we do not believe a jury would have sufficient information to find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the alleged crimes.”

The prosecutor said his office will continue to work with sheriff’s investigators and evaluate any new evidence as it comes in.

‘Blatant strong-arm attempt’

Torres Rodriguez initially was represented by court-appointed lawyer Karla Kane Hudson, then his family hired Orr and Scott Johnson of Richland.

Orr told the Tri-City Herald that their law firm only learned of the dismissal motion late Monday afternoon.

It came as quite a surprise, he said, not that they don’t believe it is the right outcome but because nothing indicated it would be coming in the attorneys’ brief discussions with prosecutors.

Torres Rodriguez was scheduled to appear late on the Tuesday morning criminal docket. After talking with Torres Rodriguez’s wife and family in the courtroom, Orr called the case early without his client present in order to get him released from jail as soon as possible.

“We’re obviously happy that he’s out and the case has been dismissed, but it’s frustrating because we do feel like this was a case where he was arrested first and the investigation was to follow,” Orr told the Herald.

“Quite frankly, with his brother and father missing, it always felt like this was a blatant strong-arm attempt to get (Carlos) to give some information which they thought he had, which he doesn’t.”

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of either Estela Torres Rodriguez or her husband and son who are suspects is asked to call the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office at 509-545-3501 during business hours or dispatch at 509-628-0333 or 911 if it is an emergency.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.