Former Guam Police Department officer Mark Torre Jr. held a wooden cross as he sat between his wife and his defense attorney, Jay Arriola, in a press conference to respond to the Supreme Court of Guam decision that lifted his conviction in the shooting death of a colleague.
"Complete shock," Torre said. "Faith is what initially allowed me to breathe. It has been everything."
Arriola added: "We are pleased with the decision. ... It is a very bold decision."
In March 2017, a Superior Court jury found Torre guilty of negligent homicide and aggravated assault for the 2015 shooting death of fellow officer Sgt. Elbert Piolo.
Torre received an eight-year sentence and has been under house arrest pending the appeal of his conviction.
"It's been about four years. It's been very demanding. I've been blessed with a supportive family," Torre said.
On Tuesday, Supreme Court Chief Justice Katherine Maraman, Associate Justice F. Philip Carbullido and Associate Justice Robert Torres signed the decision that vacated the conviction against Torre.
"It's back to not guilty," Arriola said. "When the judgment of conviction saying he's guilty of certain crimes has been vacated, that means he's back to square one - not guilty. Is he not guilty? Yes, he is."
Piolo died after being shot once below his right armpit with Torre's gun in the early morning hours of July 13, 2015.
The prosecution accused Torre of causing Piolo's death during an alcohol-fueled argument. The defense countered that Piolo was distraught over an extramarital affair and shot himself just as Torre was trying to prevent him from taking his own life.
In their appeal, the defense cited the trial court's decision to allow jurors to view the video from a body camera in which Torre was being questioned shortly after Piolo's death.
The video shows Torre sitting on the back of his pickup in police custody following the incident and being questioned by other officers for nearly 50 minutes.
It was also stated during the trial that the video showed his father, GPD Lt. Mark Torre Sr., was one of the first to speak with Torre Jr. privately. Then, Torre Sr. denied assertions by the prosecution, who asked if he had attempted to coach his son. Torre Sr. explained he was merely concerned for his son.
But the interrogation took place before Torre Jr. was read his Miranda rights, which allow a defendant to remain silent and seek legal counsel before answering any questions. The failure to notify him of those rights is a violation of the Fifth Amendment's prohibition against self-incrimination, the attorneys argued.
The appeal also faults the trial court for allowing a mental examination of Torre Jr. by a clinical psychologist brought in by the prosecution.
Torre Jr.'s attorneys argue that the examination of their client by a psychologist retained by the prosecution amounted to "a custodial interrogation for Fifth Amendment purposes" and should have been "preceded by Miranda warnings. None were given here," the appeal states.
The Supreme Court, in its ruling to vacate the conviction, said the trial court should have granted the suppression of the body camera footage.
"Mark Torre (Jr.), like any other citizen on this island, is entitled to be treated the same. Whether you are charged with murder or aggravated assault and slashing people with machetes, all citizens on Guam are entitled to protections that Miranda gives us," Arriola said. "This serves as a message to the Guam Police Department and the attorney general's office. They should not be prosecuting cases and using evidence where people's constitutional rights have been violated."
Retrial will 'be very difficult'
The Office of the Attorney General said it's disappointed with the decision. The prosecution has yet to announce its next steps.
"They should give serious reconsideration to whether or not they can achieve a conviction without the evidence. They would not have an expert. They had a very difficult time locating an expert to challenge our expert testimony. They will not be able to interview or interrogate him. They will not be able to use the video and so their evidence is quite different," Arriola said. "We are prepared to fight that battle once again. He is not guilty of these charges and he did not hurt or harm his friend."
Arriola admitted the case could run into some issues should the government decide to bring it back to court for a retrial.
"It's going to be very difficult. I mean who hasn't seen the video. Really? We are going to try to find a jury who's not heard of or seen the video? It's all over the place. It's going to be very, very difficult," he said. "Of course we sympathize with the victim's family that they lost their father and their brother; however, the investigation of this case and this decision shows that from the get-go, the police got this case wrong. The AG's case is wrong. They thought he intentionally shot Bert. They never bothered to get his side of the story and figure out he didn't shoot Bert."
The Guam Police Department has not responded to questions from The Guam Daily Post, which requested a comment to the statements made by Arriola.
Torre Jr. is expected to seek a dismissal of the case.
"I am happy and so grateful. This is a solemn celebration in that I still lost my friend. Unfortunately, I think that's the narrative that got lost along the way. In a few days, we are four years into this journey and ... I am just thankful," Torre Jr. said.
Torre Jr. and his defense team is waiting for a writ of mandate that will tell the Superior Court how to proceed.
He will remain on home detention under the same conditions of release as previously ordered by the court.