Fresno Judge Tells Evasive Domestic Violence Victim to Stop Talking

By Roxanna Jarvis

FRESNO– What was supposed to be a short probable cause hearing turned into what looked like a reality television show—cheating and arguing as yelling and accusations flew across the courtroom here in Fresno County Superior Court.

All the commotion resulted in the deputy district attorney having to drive to court and the judge yelling at the testifying witness.

Charged with a total of five felony counts including corporal injury on a spouse/cohabitant and assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, Austin Torres appeared in court to be evaluated for two cases involving his ex-girlfriend as the victim.

According to testimony by Deputy Mark Fam of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, the alleged victim had stated that she and Torres had been a couple on and off for about four years. On May 5, the victim woke around 5 a.m. to get ready for work and began showering. Her morning shower woke up the defendant, angering him.

When she got out of the shower, Torres accused the victim of going to cheat on him with another male, and “pushed her down on the bed using his body weight to hold her down facing her, with her
underneath him,” according to the deputy’s report.

While holding the victim down, Torres allegedly grasped her neck with his right hand and placed his left hand over her nose and mouth, stopping her ability to breathe.

“She told me she was [trying to] ask him to stop, but she wasn’t able to because she couldn’t breathe,” continued Deputy Fam. “She said everything went black.”

When he arrived at the scene around 6:30 a.m., Deputy Fam noted the injuries to the victim’s body—redness to the left side of her neck and bruises on her left thigh, knee, and shin. The victim told Fam that the bruises came from a previous incident in April, which is the second case against Torres. The victim was then sent to the hospital with an ambulance to evaluate her injuries.

Yet, when the victim was called to testify earlier during the hearing, she had trouble recollecting the events of May 5. In fact, DDA Nicole Idiart labeled the victim as hostile and evasive to the court.

When asked foundational questions by DDA Idiart, such as where she was residing that day of the incident or if she was working during that time, the victim couldn’t respond. “Um…no. I don’t think so. I don’t even remember.”

The victim did say she remembered speaking with deputies but did not know their names.

In an attempt to help the victim remember, Idiart asked, “In May 2020, you did speak to an officer about an incident between you and Mr. Torres correct?”

Private defense attorney Nicholas F. Reyes objected to Idiart’s question, noting, “This is really suggestive your honor. I believe she answered she does not recall.”

The victim chimed in, “Yeah I just answered that I don’t remember.” Yet, the victim did say she called officers in May when Idiart asked her.

Judge Francine Zepeda overruled Reyes’ objection, asking him to not interrupt while the victim answers questions, adding, “I believe she was going to answer [the question]…I’m going to strike the part where she mimicked Mr. Reyes.”

When Idiart asked another question, Reyes objected again for the same reason. “Your honor I am treating her as a hostile witness at this point…. her evasiveness of preliminary questions is very indicative of that of a hostile witness,” Idiart explained.

After the victim kept saying she didn’t recall, Idiart asked her, “Is it that you don’t remember, or that you don’t want to talk about it here today?”

“I don’t remember. That was a long time ago. If you guys would have contacted me sooner, I would have remembered, but it’s been so long, I don’t even care about this trial anymore,” stated the victim. “I want my money back for the flight I took to get here. It [cost] me $400 [and] I’m missing out on $5,000 for my gig tonight. Like I [don’t understand] why it’s taking so long. You guys are wasting my time making me go back and forth, and I’m stressing out.”

Although Reyes asked to keep the victim’s statement on the record, Judge Zepeda struck it as “non responsive.”

After this, the victim still responded that she couldn’t recall much from that night. “I just remember I was in the hospital. I don’t remember any of this.” She then stated again that she would have been able to remember easier if she had been called to court earlier.

Idiart then told her that she spoke with her on the phone about the incident in late May. “Yes I remember talking to you, but there [were] also a bunch of other ladies I was talking to.”

When explaining their call, Idiart mentioned how the victim wanted her to further investigate the defendant because he was also “preying on 15-year-old girls.”

After an objection from Reyes, Idiart explained that she was only establishing whether or not the victim was being “truthful on the stand.

“She is claiming that she does not recall, doesn’t remember because it was so long ago,” explained Idiart.

The victim then interrupted, “Yeah, because this happened like three months ago …”

“Stop!” shouted Judge Zepeda. “Stop right now. You’re not being asked a question. The court is considering an objection. Do not speak unless you’re asked a question, please. It’s already difficult enough.”

Reyes continued to object to Idiart’s questions during the hearing. “She’s allowed to ask the question, Mr. Reyes. For goodness sake, let her ask the question and then the victim can answer,” said the judge.

Right then, Idiart stated that it would be best for her to come to court, as she doesn’t feel “comfortable” with the witness present without her in the courtroom. A short recess was held while Idiart made her way to the courtroom.

During Reyes’ questioning, it was asked if the victim was on any medication or narcotics at the time of the incident. The victim stated no.

When Reyes questioned Deputy Fam later, he asked if there was any Xanax at the scene, to which he denied. Reyes then asked if his police report said the victim was “very lethargic” and confused.

“She was answering the questions very slowly,” Fam had responded. “I did use the word lethargic.” Later on, Fam said that while Xanax causes confusion and lethargy, so do the traumatic conditions which result from strangulation.

After the first case finished, the court decided to have the victim questioned for the second case as well. This way, the victim would not need to travel to Fresno again.

For the second case, on April 25, 2020, the victim was staying at a motel provided by the Marjaree Mason Center, an organization that provides assistance and support to victims of domestic violence. Officers were called to the motel regarding a domestic disturbance.

When asked if Torres ever hit the victim over the head with a lamp or phone, the victim stated that she didn’t recall.

Idiart then gave the victim her statement to review. “I remember this now, I have to talk to you about this,” she said, adding, “I was drunk. I thought it was Austin (the defendant) but it was another guy,” continued the victim. “There were a lot of guys in the room. I just assumed it was [Torres]. I was really drunk, my vision was like, in two.”

Idiart then asked, “But you had dated Austin Torres for three years, right? You do know what Austin Torres looks like?”

“Yeah, but I did cheat on him. I was drunk, I just stated that,” said the victim.

Judge Zepeda decided that the victim’s testimony for the second case was enough to dismiss those charges against Torres. For the strangulation case, Judge Zepeda found enough evidence to hold Torres to answer.

“I do find probable cause that there was a physical injury inflicted on [the victim]…and that injury resulted in a traumatic condition…From what we’ve learned, strangulation results in traumatic conditions which could lead to the confusion and lethargy that she may have suffered,” ruled the judge.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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