Home News Trial opens for Hammond man in home invasion, rape

Trial opens for Hammond man in home invasion, rape

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Trial opens for Hammond man in home invasion, rape

Prosecutors now allege Valentine Torrez planned a November 13, 2021 home invasion for his relative’s Hammond home.

That wasn’t always the case.

When co-defendant Garrett Whittenburg was the first man charged about two weeks after it happened, Torrez portrayed himself as a victim to police, like the relative and her 12-year-old daughter.

Torrez said he happened to be there getting a soda out of the kitchen and had left the front door unlocked when Whittenburg and another man walked inside. Torrez said he was tied up in the kitchen before he managed to escape out the back door and call 911.

However, that picture changed in April 2022 when DNA results from the sexual assault kits linked to Torrez. Prosecutors concluded Torrez raped the woman and fondled her daughter during the home invasion, Deputy Prosecutor Lindsay Lanham said.

He was “not a victim,” she said Monday in opening statements. The evidence was “heavy” and “gruesome” she later told jurors.

Torrez, 49, of Hammond, is on trial this week, charged with rape, child molesting, armed robbery, two counts of criminal confinement and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

He has pleaded not guilty. Court records show he rejected a potential plea offer in court last week.

Whittenburg, Torrez’s friend of 20 years, said he and Torrez worked together. Court documents show the plan was for Torrez to go to the house first, then Whittenburg to follow later in “disguise” with a tire iron to “scare” the woman.

Whittenburg admitted in his plea deal they planned the robbery to sexually assault the woman, Torrez’s relative, and take her credit cards. It requires him to testify against Torrez. His sentencing is later this month.

Whittenburg was excluded from the DNA hits. However, he pleaded guilty to sexual battery, admitting he assaulted the woman, who was blindfolded with a ski mask, then watched Torrez rape her, according to court documents.

The victims said they heard two other men besides Torrez in the home. Lanham argued Torrez stayed silent during their ordeal to conceal his role. The identity of a third man was not in court documents and he is not mentioned in Whittenburg’s plea agreement.

Defense lawyer Kerry Connor told jurors Monday the evidence wasn’t strong enough for a conviction. She believed “something bad happened,” but disagreed “entirely” with the prosecutors’ narrative.

Torrez had a close relationship with the child for much of her life, Connor said.

Earlier, Lanham said traces of Torrez’s DNA were found elsewhere on the victims, including the mother’s lower back.

Connor argued that he had lived at that house before with his wife and the relative. He had stuff in the garage. He stopped by often, touched blankets, and sat on the sofa. It would make sense if traces of his DNA was around the home, she said, some that could have transferred onto the victims via touch DNA.

DNA was “only as good as those people who gather it,” she said.

Hammond Police Officer Tyler Crussen testified Monday he was part of a crew of officers that responded to the armed home invasion and robbery call.

The woman appeared “rattled” but “fairly calm.” The house was dark with doors shut. It was clear something “fairly serious” had happened, he said. They found zip ties in back.

They were not able to locate Torrez immediately afterward. There was not a license plate on his vehicle, so plate readers couldn’t track it, he said.

The woman told police Torrez showed up Nov. 13, 2021, looking for “something to drink,” charges state. Five minutes later, two men walked into her house. One had a gun and was wearing a white sweatshirt, mask and gloves, according to court documents.

“You don’t have to do this,” Torrez said. “Take whatever you want.”

Torrez later identified the man as Whittenburg, court documents said. He told police he was ordered to tie up the 12-year-old girl, who had been asleep on a sofa. When he refused, the second man covered the girl’s head and took her to her bedroom, according to charges.

The woman told police her face was covered with a ski mask and head in a towel before she was sexually assaulted “repeatedly.” She felt two sets of hands while being assaulted, she said. One of the men patted the woman on her shoulder, saying she wouldn’t get hurt, according to the affidavit.

A second man molested the girl in her bedroom while she was blindfolded, the child told police, court documents said.

The woman said Whittenburg and the other man took her iPhone and debit card before leaving, charges state. The woman and child were later examined at a hospital.

The DNA hit matched “Valentino Torres,” which investigators said matched Valentine Torrez in police databases, according to charges.

Deputy Prosecutor Arturo Balcazar is co-counsel. The trial is before Judge Natalie Bokota.

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