N.M. officials deplore ‘turnstile justice’

Suspect in road rage killing was charged in past, never tried

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The man charged with a road rage shooting that killed a 4-year-old girl on an Albuquerque freeway was previously arrested in violent crimes but never prosecuted, showing another example of a broken criminal justice system in New Mexico, authorities say.

Tony Torrez was suspected of aggravated battery, domestic violence and a violent incident involving a gun in two felony cases since 2010. Each time, the case was dropped.

His case and that of a convicted felon accused of shooting and critically wounding an Albuquerque police officer came in the same week, unnerving many in New Mexico’s largest city and leading local officials to call on state lawmakers to enact reforms.

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden says lax sentencing laws have led to what he describes as “turnstile justice” that endangers law enforcement officers and the public.

Police said Torrez, 32, admitted firing on Alan Garcia and his two children Tuesday as they traveled on Interstate 40, the city’s main east-west freeway. He has been charged with murder, assault, child abuse and other crimes.

Torrez had been tied to a 2006 fight in which he was charged with aggravated battery and assault. A grand jury indictment said Torrez assaulted another man with a handgun and applied force to a woman with the weapon or touched her with it, intending to injure her.

But the only crime for which he has been prosecuted was a misdemeanor speeding violation in 2013. Around that time, charges including abandonment or abuse of a child and aggravated battery of a household member were dismissed for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors also were not able to proceed with 2006 domestic violence charges.

In this week’s road rage case, Garcia had just picked up his 4-year-old daughter, Lilly, and his 7-year-old son from school and was trying to get off the freeway when another car forced him out of his lane. Garcia gestured toward the other driver and swore at him. The man in the other car, who police say was Torrez, opened fire on Garcia’s pickup truck, hitting Lilly in the head.

Garcia told police he heard two gunshots. Then his son said, “She’s bleeding.”

The suspect pursued Garcia’s truck and fired twice more, according to a criminal complaint. Garcia pulled over and tried to give first aid to his daughter as a bystander called 911.

When help arrived, Lilly was lying on the tailgate of her father’s truck in the median, bleeding heavily.

According to the complaint, police received an anonymous tip from a caller who said Torrez acknowledged shooting the child after he said Garcia’s truck tried to run him off the road. Police said they believe it was a random encounter and the men didn’t know each other.

Torrez was arrested Wednesday. Todd Farkas, his public defender, has declined to comment.

Officer Simon Drobik said the best approach in a road-rage situation is to avoid engaging with a problem driver, take down the license plate number and call police.

“It takes two people,” Drobik said of road rage. “You have to let it go.”

The girl’s death spawned an outpouring of sympathy nationwide. A GoFundMe account for funeral services and other expenses has received more than $76,000, and the hashtag #JusticeForLilly spread on social media.

The 4-year-old loved dancing, singing, school and shopping at Target, according to her family. Before Torrez’s arrest, Veronica Garcia told Albuquerque’s KOAT-TV that her daughter “had this personality that was just over and above her age.”

“She just had this smile and beautiful big brown eyes that just light up a room,” Veronica Garcia said between sobs. “She was so polite. She just grabbed your heart from the first time that you met her.”