By Sunantha Mendoza-Quibilan/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – The man accused of strangling to death a 46-year-old Filipino hotel worker two years ago is set to undergo a second evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial.
Jose A. Torres, 47, who is currently being held on a $1 million bond, turned himself in to authorities on June 30, 2006, hours after police found the body of his former girlfriend and co-worker stuffed in a locker in a small room at the Best Way Inn & Suites (now known as the Days Inn). Her hands and feet were tied with wire, and a wooden cross and flowers were at her feet.
One of the issues in this case has been the mental health of Torres who, upon confessing to the killing of Reynes, had asked for the death penalty. After being arrested, he was placed on suicide watch, and has been held at the Garner Correctional Institution, a Newtown facility for inmates with mental illnesses.
While Torres was found competent to stand trial by a team from the Connecticut State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in February 2007, an independent evaluation by psychiatrist Kenneth M. Selig initiated by Torres’ attorney revealed “differences.” “Competence” in legal terms means that a defendant is capable of understanding the proceedings and assisting his own defense.
“I am unable at this time to conclude that they [the findings of the mental health department] are wrong, but I remain convinced that he (Torres) is mentally retarded and may be incompetent,” Selig wrote in a letter to the court in March 2007.
He recommended that Torres take a neuropsychological test with a bilingual doctor, which is under way, and that Torres also undergo another competency evaluation.
The second evaluation was requested by defense lawyer Peter E. Scillieri, an attorney from the public defender’s office, on Wednesday during Torres’ appearance in New London Superior Court. Judge Susan B. Handy granted the request, with no objections from the prosecutor, Lawrence Tytla.
The victim, Reynes, was on a temporary work visa as an accountant, although her co-workers said she was in fact working in the hotel’s laundry. She had been living and working at the hotel since 2003 and was supporting a husband and two children in the Philippines at the time of her death.
The owners of the motel have paid a settlement to the family of Reynes, according to James Williams, the family’s attorney. A confidentiality agreement prohibits Williams from divulging specifics, but it appears that the settlement was negotiated before the family filed a lawsuit.
Williams said that he will continue to serve as the representative of Reynes’ family throughout Torres’ trial. “The family still has a very significant interest in making sure this thing is seen through and handled appropriately,” he said.“We want to see justice served.”