High court denies Torre appeal

POST-HEARING: Attorney Jay Arriola, left, speaks to the media for his client Mark Torre Jr. after Torre's hearing on March 5 in Hagåtña. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Former Guam Police officer Mark Torre Jr.’s speedy trial rights were not violated, according to an order issued late Friday afternoon by the justices of the Supreme Court of Guam.

The high court found that the Superior Court of Guam was still within the 60-day period to bring the case to trial.

“Because 95 days elapsed between Torre’s arraignment and the commencement of trial, and Torre’s motion (to dismiss) tolled 48 of those days, 47 out of 60 days were not excludable for Torre’s trial timeline. His rights…have not been violated,” the order states.

Justices ruled they see no grounds that the lower court began jury selection in "bad faith." The judge handling the case – who moved for a seat in federal court – gave ample notice to the court of his pending resignation, the high court stated, adding that the judge had good reason to believe another judge would try the case to conclusion.

"We are very disappointed with the Guam Supreme Court‘s decision. Today the Court failed to protect not only Mark Torre’s speedy trial right but the speedy trial rights of all other criminal defendants who have been waiting to have their day in court," stated Anita P. Arriola, Torre's attorney. "We look forward to a retrial in conformance with the Guam Speedy Trial Act."

Torre has been charged with negligent homicide in connection with the 2015 shooting death of fellow Officer Sgt. Elbert Piolo.

A second trial was underway in the lower court prior to the appeal and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lip service

During oral arguments earlier this month, Torre’s attorney, Anita Arriola, argued the lower court should have started the trial on Jan. 24  but did not.

She also contends the previously assigned judge, Michael Bordallo, who is now a judge at the federal court, never intended to bring the case to conclusion.

“Judge Bordallo was not alone in paying lip service to this case. The whole Superior Court paid lip service to this case ... because it didn’t reassign the case in a timely manner,” said Arriola.

The case was reassigned to Judge Arthur Barcinas.

In March, Barcinas denied Torre’s request to dismiss the case, prompting Torre to take the matter before the high court.

“I just don’t see that the judge, in this case, was paying lip service to the speedy trial statute. I think that he was doing what he was supposed to do…this defendant is not the only defendant in the world and he’s not the only asserted defendant,” said Assistant Attorney General Marianna Woloschuk.

Defense attorney Jay Arriola has said: “We were the only asserted case while the judge (was) in Saipan for a judicial conference. So when we talk about paying lip service to the speedy trial act, that’s paying lip service.”  

In the first trial, Torre was found guilty of aggravated assault and negligent homicide. In July 2019, the Supreme Court of Guam vacated the aggravated assault and negligent homicide convictions against Torre. The high court ruled that the Superior Court erred when it denied the defense motion to suppress body-camera footage, which showed police interrogating Torre before he was read his Miranda rights: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

The prosecution refiled a negligent homicide case against Torre and the second trial had started before COVID-19 hit.

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