Abel Torres was found guilty in the 2008 murder of his roommate Fernando Gonzalez and sentenced to life plus 35 years for his crimes. The family of Gonzalez held each other and wept as the verdict was read.
Despite the best efforts of public defenders Jennifer Arndt and Maria Banjo, jurors didn't believe that authorities were wrong when they focused their investigation on Torres. Arndt brought up the blood found on Torres' clothing that matched the victim, saying it didn't prove Torres had pulled the trigger; just that he had been in the room with Gonzalez at some point when he was bleeding.
"There are plenty of explanations for that," she said, adding that investigators decided "we think its Abel Torres cause these two guys said that, so let's just run with it."
She also questioned the believability of the state's star witness, Hector Manuel Romero Aguirre, who was in the house when the crime was committed.
District Attorney Layla Zon disagreed with Arndt's suggestion that Aguirre and Luis Ernesto Garcia Cantu (who was not in court but had also been there during the shooting) should have been considered anything other than witnesses to a murder.
"This man [Aguirre] comes all the way over here from Mexico without any obligation to do so... this man flies over here timidly; nervous... because of what this man [pointing to Torres] did to his friend... the evidence in this case is overwhelming."
t took jurors just over an hour to render their verdict and Torres was found guilty on charges of murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Gonzalez' sister Diana Rodriguez spoke on behalf of the family, thanking the judge, the state and the jury for their time on her brother's case.
"What we've lost can never be replaced, but today our family can finally start the healing process," she said in court.
uperior Court Judge Horace Johnson Jr. addressed Torres after sentencing him, urging the 31-year-old convicted murderer to use his time in prison wisely.
"While this sounds like forever, you still have choices on how you use your time in prison," he told Torres. "This is not a life without parole sentence, it is not a death sentence, but the person you come out as is your choice... I would hope you would take it as an opportunity to reflect on what you did wrong and come out a better citizen."
Torres nodded at the judge but did not speak. He also did not take the stand in his own defense.
"The Newton County Sheriff's Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation should be commended for their hard work on this case," said Zon in an email. "The family of Mr. Gonzalez is very appreciative of all who contributed to the verdict. The young man, Hector Manuel Romero Aguirre, who came to testify from Mexico, was a genuine friend to Mr. Gonzalez, and without his willingness to cooperate, we would not have been able to try this case. Sometimes the most difficult part of this job is to meet with the family to prepare them for what they will hear in the trial of their loved one's murder. On the other hand, the most rewarding part of this job by far is getting to see them leave the courtroom with some closure and a renewed faith in our criminal justice system."