Appeals court nullifies Ogden judge’s decision to grant Roy man new trial on rape charge
After being convicted of rape, a Roy man won a new trial when an Ogden judge ruled his defense counsel was ineffective. But on Friday, the Utah Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and the man is now headed to sentencing.
Second District Judge Camille Neider in 2019 granted William Torres-Orellana a new trial because his public defender did not enter into evidence a series of text messages in which the 16-year-old victim expressed affection for him after the Jan. 31, 2017, incident. At one point, they talked about making arrangements to see one another on Valentine’s Day, before she stopped communicating with him and he was arrested in March. Neider listed several additional aspects of insufficient defense.
But the Court of Appeals reinstated the November 2018 conviction, saying the jury was already aware of “their attempted reconciliation and expressions of affection toward each other and because other strong evidence supported the jury’s verdict.”
The court pointed out that the day after the incident, the teenager forcefully confronted the 20-year-old Torres-Orellana in text messages and he admitted his actions.
“How am I supposed to let someone who forced me to have sex fix it?” the victim texted him on Feb. 1, according to the court record. “How are you supposed to fix that?” Torres-Arellano responded, “I’m so sorry for that I didn’t mean to, I don’t know, I just wish there was a way.”
Further, the Court of Appeals said, the physical evidence was strong. A sexual assault nurse examiner testified in the trial that the victim’s genital exam “revealed some of the most severe injuries” she had seen in her 12-year career.
In a concurring opinion, Appeals Court Judge Ryan Harris agreed with the court’s conclusion, but he said he disagreed with the Utah Supreme Court’s guidance in a 2006 case that said district judges’ rulings on requests for new trials should not be treated deferentially by the higher courts. In many other issues, district judges’ decisions are given deference by higher courts.
Harris said Neider “was unquestionably troubled by the way in which the trial unfolded, and took several steps in an attempt to rectify what (she) saw as a series of problems in Torres’s defense.”
Harris added, “I am left wondering whether there might be something not contained in the appellate record — for instance, matters of perception that a judge presiding over the trial might have better understood than we are able to — that motivated the court’s actions.”
“In the big picture,” Harris continued, “I think we want to encourage — rather than discourage — trial judges to speak up when they perceive a problem with the manner in which a trial has unfolded. I commend the trial judge in this case for speaking up when she saw something she perceived as concerning. I hope our conclusion in this case does not deter trial judges from doing so in the future.”
After Torres-Orellana was granted a new trial, the state appealed Neider’s decision. Neider set bail at $20,000 and Torres-Orellana has been free pending the appeal.