Murder conviction of former base officer overturned


POSTED: Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A state appeals court has ordered a new trial for a former Pearl Harbor base police officer convicted of murder in the 1992 disappearance of a Navy exchange cashier.

The state Intermediate Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Jenaro Torres yesterday because the trial judge should not have allowed testimony from a Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agent about a handgun found in Torres' car.

The agent testified he believed the handgun had been fired within eight hours of his examination of it on the same day Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Exchange employee Ruben Gallegos disappeared.

The agent was not qualified as an expert witness on firearms and had even testified he was not aware of any scientific test to determine how recently a gun had been fired.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said he is disappointed with the court's decision but is still reviewing it and has not decided whether to appeal.

; Gallegos was last seen leaving the Navy Exchange on May 1, 1992, carrying a money bag containing $80,000, accompanied by Torres. Torres, a Department of Justice police officer, was in uniform but on leave at the time.

Five hours later, on-duty base police officers stopped Torres trying to enter Pearl Harbor. In his car they found all but $2,000 of the missing money, a stun gun, the handgun, spent bullet shells and a bag containing Gallegos' wallet, identification cards and hairbrush.

Federal prosecutors did not charge Torres with murder because Gallegos' body has not been found.

A jury found Torres guilty of the robbery, and he served a two-year prison sentence.

The state Attorney General's cold-case unit revived the murder case and obtained a grand jury indictment in 2005 after tracking down a woman who worked with Torres in California following his release from federal prison.

The former co-worker said Torres admitted killing an accomplice in a robbery and told her other details of the crime.

A jury found Torres guilty in 2007, and a state judge sentenced him to the mandatory life prison term with the possibility for parole.

At his parole minimum hearing, Gallegos' older sister pleaded with Torres to reveal the location of her brother's body.

The Hawaii Paroling Authority ordered Torres to remain in prison for 75 years before he is eligible for parole.