LAS CRUCES – The Doña Ana County sheriff’s office says it is investigating the circumstances that led to the death of one of four intruders who allegedly broke into the home of a mixed martial arts fighter in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Charges have not been pressed against Joseph Torrez, 27, but District Attorney Mark D’Antonio on Tuesday said he could not formally clear Torrez until he knows the “full dynamics of the situation.” At issue, he said, is whether Torrez acted with “reasonable force.”
“Was there the appearance of immediate danger?” D’Antonio said at a news conference at county headquarters. “Was the homeowner put in fear of apparent injury, death or great bodily harm? Would a reasonable person feel they were under some sort of threat? What’s really important to understand folks is, when you respond in self-defense, you have to respond with reasonable force. Those are the parameters the investigators will be investigating.”
Sheriff’s deputies say that wounds allegedly inflicted by Torrez killed 25-year-old Sal Garces, one of the four men with known gang affiliations who reportedly invaded Torrez’s home while his fiancee, young son and fiancee’s younger sister were there. Garces, who suffered stab wounds from a steak knife and blunt trauma from a beating, died at the scene, according to sheriff’s office spokeswoman Kelly Jameson.
Torrez’s attorney C.J. McElhinney says Torrez acted in self-defense.
“Every American has the right to defend their home, their family and their life, and that is exactly what my client was doing on Jan. 1,” McElhinney said following the news conference.
Mixed martial arts promoter and coach Peter Vargas says Torrez started fighting with his group, the Bone Crushers, several years ago. Torrez, he said, “had the right” to do what he did, and also described what he called “the fighting mentality.”
“You’re taught to do whatever it takes to get rid of that threat,” he said. “That’s why whenever you are in a cage and you knock somebody down, you don’t stop until they are out completely. They have that mentality to stop them at any cost.”
Three suspects in the case have been arrested on charges of aggravated residential burglary, two counts of conspiracy to commit a third-degree felony and criminal damage to property, according to Jameson. They are Nathan Avalos, 20; Leonard Calvillo, 22 and 19-year-old Raymond Garces, the brother of the man who was killed.
Jameson said investigators believe the home invasion is linked to a phone call days earlier in which Calvillo allegedly called Torrez with a threat. McElhinney said that while Torrez claims no relationship to any of the four men, Torrez’s fiancee’s younger sister had been attacked at a party, allegedly by two or more of the men who broke into Torrez’s home.
McElhinney said his client stopped collaborating with investigators last week “when it became clear to me that the police were not investigating the four people and possibly others that were involved in this break-in.”
“My client is going to be more than willing to testify against these people in court,” he said. “All we are asking is that these people who have been arrested stand trial and face justice.”
D’Antonio said the investigation and analysis could take weeks.
“There are a lot of moving parts in these cases,” he said.
The sheriff’s office indicated at least half a dozen investigators are working on the case.
Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the 600 block of King James Road in the community of Doña Ana, north of Las Cruces, just before 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, where they discovered Garces severely wounded before he died at the scene.