Saturday, August 4, 2001

Dad acquitted
of tot’s murder

Michael Bentosino was accused
in the death of 4-month-
old Tori Bentosino

By Debra Barayuga

The family of Michael Bentosino expressed sympathy to the mother of his 4-month-old girl, who died two years ago.

Bentosino was found not guilty of second-degree murder yesterday for causing the death of the infant by his then-girlfriend Nanette Arigo.

"We're very sorry that this has happened, we're sorry for Nanette, but nothing will bring Tori back," said Bentosino's mother, Patricia Bentosino. "The memory of her will always be in our hearts."

Tori Bentosino died of brain injuries due to blunt trauma. She sustained multiple skull fractures and brain swelling on July 30, 1999, lapsed into a coma and died three days later.

The state maintained Tori's injuries were inflicted after Bentosino became angry because of the baby's crying.

"This court cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant Bentosino intentionally, knowingly or recklessly caused the death of Tori Bentosino," said Circuit Judge Marie Milks, who presided over the jury-waived trial last month.

Bentosino, 45, dropped his head on the table in front of him upon hearing the verdict. Had he been convicted, he would have faced life with the possibility of parole.

Bentosino had contended he was holding the infant while trying to prepare a bottle when she accidentally fell from his arms, struck the kitchen countertop and fell to the tile floor.

Arigo had left Tori alone with Bentosino while she took a shower. He did not tell her anything was wrong until after she had showered and he had prepared a bottle.

Arigo, who broke up with Bentosino after the baby's death, wept with family members after the verdict was announced.

She and her family are "devastated" by the decision, said Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim.

While Kim is "extremely disappointed" by the verdict, the state will abide by the judge's decision, he said.

Milks said all the medical experts who testified concluded that the infant had suffered from an impact to her head.

But because it is unknown exactly when Tori sustained the injury, and both state and defense doctors agreed one of the skull fractures could have widened because of the brain swelling, it could not be determined whether the force to her head was inflicted or caused by a fall, Milks said.

Although she found the state's medical expert, Mary Case, more knowledgeable and credible than the defense's expert, the court could not "fully accept" her conclusion that a fall from a distance of 37 inches could not have caused an accidental death. "The court finds that it depends on the nature of the fall."

She said the various hypothetical examples posed by experts "lacked consistency with the facts as represented by defendant Bentosino."

Milks suggested that experts' opinions can be skewed when hypothetical scenarios are not consistent with actual facts.

Milks said she could not determine, based on Bentosino's responses to police questioning and the mother's testimony about the circumstances surrounding Tori's death, that Bentosino inflicted the child's injuries intentionally. She also said Arigo's statements did not contradict or cause the court to disbelieve Bentosino's statements about what happened.

Tom Arigo, father of Nanette Arigo, said family members are saddened about what happened. "For sure, they know in their mind, their heart, this Bentosino did something to the baby," he said.

He said he sat through the trial and listened to the expert testimony and cannot understand how the judge reached her decision. "It's very unfair."

He believes a jury, not one person, should have been allowed to hear the case.

Defendants have the right to choose between a jury or nonjury trial.

Bentosino's father, Masami Bentosino, said he and the family believed all along that his son was innocent.

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