SHERIDAN — Christian Torres, a 15-year-old who allegedly murdered his father, Edgar “Eddie” Jones, July 27, 2021, appeared before 4th Judicial District Court Judge John Fenn in an arraignment hearing Thursday. Due to concerns about the defendant’s competency, however, Fenn ordered a competency evaluation be conducted prior to any additional proceedings in the case, including the filing of any pleas.
Torres sat at the defense table wearing orange clothing from Sheridan County Detention Center, rather than the black-and-white-striped, Montana-issued jumpsuit he’d worn during previous hearings. Despite courtroom microphones, his voice was quiet, occasionally interrupted by the clinking of his handcuffs and leg shackles.
Fenn started the proceeding as he begins most arraignments: with a series of questions designed to determine whether the defendant is competent. In response to Fenn’s questions, Torres divulged mental health diagnoses and a history of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.
The defendant’s age and mental health history coupled with the gravity of the charge he faces, Fenn said, was worrisome in terms of competency.
Torres’ attorney, Public Defender Anna Malmberg, said she too was concerned about Torres’ competency. The defense, Malmberg said, plans to request Torres’ case be moved to juvenile court or plead not guilty by reason of mental impairment or deficiency.
Without a competency evaluation, however, Fenn said the defendant could not yet enter a plea. In fact, very little can proceed in the case without the evaluation.
“I’m hesitant to do anything today,” Fenn said.
Fenn ordered Torres receive a competency evaluation from the proper authorities.
After the order, Fenn took up other issues related to the case, including Torres’ current living circumstances and the defense’s emergency motion to quash release of Torres’ records by his guardian, Nicole Jones.
Defense attorney Jonathan Foreman, who also represents Torres, addressed concerns about his client’s housing situation. Because he is charged as an adult, Torres is currently housed in the Sheridan County Detention Center, an adult facility. Foreman alleged his client has been threatened or assaulted in the center twice and asked Fenn to consider rehousing Torres in a Gillette facility safer for juveniles.
Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson said these incidents were not reported to detention center staff prior to introduction in court Thursday. Thompson said his office has since investigated the claims, which remain unconfirmed.
The prosecution also responded to the defense’s emergency motion to quash release of Torres’ medical and mental health records by Nicole Jones, Torres’ guardian and wife of the alleged victim.
“Clearly,” the defense’s motion alleged, “Ms. Jones has interests in this matter which conflict from the interests of Mr. Torres in the defense of these serious criminal allegations.”
Deputy Sheridan County and Prosecuting Attorney Christopher LaRosa took issue with the defense’s motion, arguing the defense was trying to bar the prosecution from receiving necessary case documents and “trying to punish” the state.
In juvenile court, Fenn said during the proceeding, there is a process for determining how to move forward when a parent’s interests are not consistent with their child’s, as the defense alleges in Torres’ cases. The same is not true, of course, for adult court.
Fenn asked both parties to file motions about these issues, rather than attempting to hold a hearing while the defendant’s competency is unconfirmed. These motions, Fenn said, must be filed by Dec. 3, while any responses to motions be filed by Dec. 17.
Torres’ case will not move forward until a competency evaluation is completed and these motions are filed.