Las Cruces fighter Joe Torrez preparing for legal defense in deadly home invasion
Man who battled intruders may be facing his own legal challenges in deadly incident
LAS CRUCES >> He has not been charged, but the Las Cruces man who fought off intruders during a deadly New Year's Day home invasion is preparing a legal defense.
A Las Cruces attorney Sunday started an online campaign in support of Joseph Torrez. The 27-year-old construction worker and mixed martial arts fighter reportedly fought four gang members on New Year's Day after they forced their way into his home on King James Avenue near the community of Doņa Ana, according to court documents and Torrez's attorney, C.J. McElhinney.
Sal Garces (Courtesy photo)
In his initial post on the "Support Joe Torrez" Facebook page
, McElhinney wrote: "Unfortunately, I think we are at the beginning of a very long fight. Please know that I have advised Joe to make no statements of any kind until this situation is resolved. He is reading all of your posts and truly appreciates your support."
McElhinney said he advised Torrez to stop cooperating with the Doņa Ana County Sheriff's Office late last week during an interview with investigators. Initially, McElhinney said, investigators had called it a self-defense case.
DASO is continuing its investigation, in conjunction with the 3rd Judicial District Attorney's Office. While Torrez has not been charged, he has not been cleared officially either.
One of the alleged intruders, 25-year-old Sal Garces, was beaten, stabbed and died at the scene, near a neighboring house.
Another suspect, Nathan M. Avalos, 20, was transported to an El Paso hospital with facial injuries. Avalos was released from the hospital Monday, DASO spokeswoman Kelly Jameson said. Avalos has not been charged, but McElhinney wrote on the Facebook page that the head investigator planned to file charges against Avalos once he was released.
In a phone interview, McElhinney said Torrez's family is concerned for its safety, adding that Avalos should be in jail.
Two other men, Raymond Garces, the 19-year-old brother of the man killed, and Leonard Calvillo, 22, have been jailed in the wake of the incident. Both remain in custody, per jail records.
More than 6,000 people have "liked" the page, and several have commented showing support for Torrez, including some from around the world.
McElhinney said people have offered to contribute money toward any legal fees Torres might incur.
The story appeared on national news websites and in England and Australia -- the majority of those accounts are rewrites of what has been reported in the Sun-News.
McElhinney had a phone interview with Jane Velez-Mitchell on CNN's Headline News, a cable television network, to discuss the case Monday evening.
The events that sparked the home invasion and the details of the subsequent fight aren't completely clear.
Torrez was inside his home that night with his 2-year-old son, fiance and three of her friends -- one of them came over saying she had been jumped, McElhinney said.
Raymond Garces reportedly told authorities that the group had gone to the King James Avenue home because of a previous altercation, according to a statement of facts filed in Magistrate Court.
Later, Torrez received phone threats from Calvillo, according to court documents.
"I'm big Eastside," Calvillo reportedly said, referring to a gang. " ... I'll kill you and your family ... I will go to your house."
The Garces brothers, Avalos and Calvillo reportedly forced their way into the home about 2 a.m.
McElhinney said Torrez does not recall clearly all the moments of the brawl, including how Sal Garces received his fatal wounds. McElhinney is adamant that Torrez did not know the men before that morning.
Torrez suffered minor injuries.
Deputy District Attorney Jacinto Palomino said Monday that a prosecutor went to the scene Jan. 1. He said they are being "thorough" to find out what the facts support. If those don't follow Torrez's self-defense claim, he could face criminal charges for the homicide.
According to New Mexico jury instructions, a confronted person, such as Torrez, has the right to self defense and does not have a duty to retreat.
But "when acting in self-defense, a person may use no more force than is reasonably necessary to avoid the threatened harm," according to commentary that accompanies the state jury instructions.
Court records show numerous prior arrests and convictions for the Garces brothers, Avalos and Calvillo, many on drug and violence charges. In some cases, they have been arrested and charged together. They are cousins, according to Facebook.
At the time of his death, Sal Garces was awaiting trial for domestic violence charges.
Calvillo was on probation for a drug-related conviction at the time of the incident, court records show. As a result, his probation has been revoked and he was being held without bond at the Doņa Ana County Detention Center.
Calvillo was charged with aggravated battery, two counts of conspiracy (related to burglary and battery) and criminal damage to property.
In April, Avalos was charged with stabbing a man near a pool supply business
on Lohman Avenue. According to court filings, Calvillo drove the car and also fought in that incident but was not charged.
Officials eventually dropped the charge against Avalos, and Palomino said Monday it was because of the nature of that fight.
Raymond Garces, who was on an ankle monitor at the time of his arrest, was charged with two counts of conspiracy and criminal damage to property. He was being held at the detention center on a $10,000 secured bond.
Anyone with additional information can call the investigator directly at the Doņa Ana County Sheriff's Office, 575-525-8806, according to a news release issued Monday.
Torrez, who has a 1-5 record as a professional MMA fighter, has another bout scheduled Jan. 17. It's unclear if it will take place.