Donald Torres was 14 when he intentionally set a family’s home on fire and murdered them. Again, advocates of ending juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) are minimizing the crime committed by the perpetrator they intend to release into society. The anti-JLWOP advocates in this case are part of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). While NOVJM recognizes the good work EJI has done, such as freeing innocent prisoners, we are saddened by their misrepresentation of this terrible crime.
Here are the facts of this horrific crime as laid out in the Is Life Without Parole For Juveniles Cruel And Unusual? entry.
In 1989, in Middletown, Delaware, Donald Torres, 14, murdered Harry and Jennifer Godt and their two children, four-year-old Jon and one -and-a-half-year-old Samantha. Torres, who had befriended the Godt family, became angry when Harry scolded him for teaching Jon to play with matches.
Around midnight on February 24, Torres broke into the family’s home and spread kerosene over the kitchen floor and the stairway leading to the bedrooms. He then ignited the kerosene with a lighter and some newspaper. He went outside and watched as the fire spread. He saw Harry run out of the house screaming and then re-enter to save his family. Torres later admitted that he knew the family was in the home when he set it ablaze. All four members of the family were killed.
The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) represented Torres in the arsonist killer’s attempt to get a new sentence. NOVJM is not asking that EJI not represent Torres. What we would like is honesty.
While EJI gives many details about Torres’s background in an attempt to mitigate his quadrupedal murder they offer very little detail about the crime that got him LWOP in the first place. They write: “EJI represents Donald Torres, who was sentenced to die in prison in Delaware for an offense that occurred when he was just fourteen years old.” An offense did not occur when Torres was 14. An offense was committed when he was 14. And it was committed by Torres. This was not some accident that randomly occurred. Torres intentionally poured kerosene around the house and set the house on fire.
EJI continues. “At age fourteen, Donald Torres was arrested for his involvement in an arson in which four people died. He was tried as an adult, convicted of murder, and received a mandatory sentence to die in prison.” Torres was not simply “involved” in the offense. He was not a getaway driver. He did not supply the matches and kerosene without knowledge of what they would be used for. In the criminal justice arena, Torres is a principal, one who directly participates in and is responsible for the crime.
EJI completely glosses over the details. We know from reading their post that four people died. But they do not tell us that two of those people were children. EJI is fine with calling Torres and other teenaged murderers “children” but will not acknowledge when actual one and four-year-old children are victims. EJI also declined to tell readers how those four people died. Readers learn all about Torres’s experiences with dysfunction and violence while growing up. But they do not learn about how Torres burned alive a family. And finally, the Godt family did not just die. They were murdered. And they were murdered by Donald Torres.