By Jeanine Grimes, Sophia Lu, Tommy Nguyen
VENTURA, CA – Erica Torres joined the Ventura County Superior Court via Zoom from the Todd Road Jail Facility last Thursday to hear the sentencing for her felony of conspiracy to commit a crime—stealing baby formula for a relative.
In May of 2020, Torres was caught shoplifting approximately $237 worth of items, mainly baby formula for her niece, from the WinCo Foods Market located in Ventura.
Defense Attorney Eric Luce clarified that the conspiracy charge with Torres’s partner is what elevated the crime to a felony, and maintained he has always believed that the case was overcharged and should have remained a misdemeanor.
The matter was originally set for sentencing on Jan. 13 of this year, and the original plea agreement was two years of probation and 365 days of jail time, pending Torres’s participation in a residential treatment program.
Torres’s parents were supposed to take her on Dec. 14, 2021, the day of her plea, but “something fell through” and she never went. Torres has no legal excuse for her absence over the last six months, and she was arrested on a warrant June 15.
However, Attorney Luce noted when he met with Torres the previous day at Todd Road Jail Facility, he was informed that, prior to her arrest on a warrant, Torres had begun receiving treatment at the Rainbow Recovery House in Oxnard with some of her partner’s monetary support.
“I say this next part not only for the court’s benefit but especially for Ms. Torres’s benefit as well…yesterday was the first time I met with Ms. Torres after (her) one week of sobriety. It was the first time, Ms. Torres, that I’ve ever seen you smile. It was the first time I’ve ever seen you happy,” said Attorney Luce.
In directly addressing Torres once again, Attorney Luce said, “I know this is a daily struggle, but sobriety looks good on you.”
Following these emotional words of support, Attorney Luce asked the court to consider imposing half of Torres’s jail sentence, reducing it to 180 days from the original 365 days, and have the rest of the sentence pending on her continued participation at the Rainbow Recovery Center.
He said that Torres seems to have additional motivations for continuing her treatment, with support from both her mother and partner.
Attorney Luce concluded his comments by pleading for the defendant to be given another chance and that he is “sincere in saying that Ms. Torres is a much different person when I met her yesterday than she has been over the last two years.”
Judge Patricia Murphy agreed with the proposal but said “the trouble is it is way too late for the court purposes and the court’s original offer was based on similar circumstances.”
Judge Murphy agreed that the program served great purposes for Torres, but noted it didn’t help that Torres did not come to court willingly and waited until she was arrested on the warrant.
Judge Murphy said Torres had to serve the 365-day sentence. The judge’s final decision was that “Torres will do half of it and be in a position to go into a program.”
The judge affirmed that this should continue as a probation case and will follow with the probation part of the offer. Judge Murphy emphasized the consequences of not abiding by one’s behavior and responsibilities.
It is quite possible that Torres could come back to the court to reevaluate her sentence if she does well with the treatment, the judge promised, adding, “It is entirely up to her and can serve as a good incentive for her.”
Regarding the other misdemeanor charges that Torres had pleaded guilty to, the court denied probation and ordered her to serve 90 days in the county jail for each charge concurrently with each other and with the time imposed for the felony charge.
In light of the restitution already imposed to the felony charge, Judge Murphy declined to impose restitution fines for her misdemeanor charges due to the lack of ability to pay.