Murals memorializing homicide victims Raul Esparza (left photo) and Erasmo Christopher Torres (right photo) are shown on walls just a hundred feet away from each other near where each were thought to be killed a little more than a month apart during August and September 2019. It isn’t known if or how the cases are linked, but the woman accused of killing Esparza is the mother of Torres. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTOS

A Tale of Two Murder Cases: Are the Killings of Raul Esparza and Chris Torres Connected?

There is clearly a link between the year-old unsolved murder of Erasmo Christopher Torres and the still-evolving murder case of Raul Esparza, yet police and court documents aren’t tying the two together other than the fact that one of Esparza’s alleged killers is Torres’ mother, Rosita Deborah Torres.

Murder suspect Rosita Deborah Torres. | IMPERIAL COUNTY JAIL PHOTO

An El Centro police official confirmed that fact, but it was something already known considering in the week prior to her arrest on suspicion of one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder, Rosita Torres of El Centro had been in contact with the Calexico Chronicle multiple times in an attempt to run an advertisement and get a story written about what she claimed was the stalled investigation into her 24-year-old son’s Aug. 4, 2019, killing.

The 45-year-old Rosita Torres was arrested Aug. 20 for the death of Esparza, a 30-year-old El Centro man whose body was found burned beyond recognition around 7:10 a.m. Sept. 17 in a trash bin near the railroad tracks behind businesses in the 900 block of Second Street on the east side of town.

Torres was taken into custody in her home by El Centro police the afternoon of Aug. 20 and remanded to the Imperial County jail, where she remained Aug. 27 on $1 million bail. She was arraigned on the charges Aug. 24, the same day she and co-conspirator, Daniel Alexander Munguia, 39, of El Centro, reportedly a former boyfriend, was also charged in the Esparza case with one count of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. He also faces a three-strikes enhancement for two previous felony convictions for serious or violent crimes. He, too, is being held on a $1 million bond.

Murder suspect Daniel Alexander Munguia. | IMPERIAL COUNTY JAIL PHOTO

Munguia, who is being represented by the Imperial County Public Defender’s Office, was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty the morning of Aug. 27, where his bail was raised from $500,000. He had been in custody since July 30 on a reportedly unrelated count of assault with a deadly weapon. He next faces a preliminary hearing on Sept. 3, according to Assistant District Attorney Deborah Owen.

Torres was due a bail review hearing, but that was continued for Aug. 31, when she will also have what is called a confirmation of counsel hearing. A conflict of interest was declared by her public defender and Torres was appointed a new attorney Aug. 27. A readiness conference is set in her case for Sept. 3, with a prelim scheduled for Sept. 8, Owen stated.

Although a reporter with the Chronicle had not gotten the opportunity to do a more extensive interview with Torres before police arrested her, she had sent multiple photos of her son and the location where he was killed, and had spoken with other Chronicle staff in some vivid detail about Chris Torres’ murder.

Much of that information reveals crossover and circumstantial links between her son’s case and that of Esparza’s killing, including key dates and locations where the bodies of Chris Torres and Esparza were found. She made no mention of Esparza or anything about his case.

In the days before Torres’ arrest, and in preparation for an interview with her, the Chronicle sought an update into her son’s case from the El Centro Police Department. Even now, all that police will say is that the probe into both cases is active and ongoing, Assistant Police Chief Robert Sawyer confirmed Aug. 26.

No other details in the Torres case would be discussed other than what was on the record from August 2019.

In the case of Esparza, Sawyer would not discuss any details that were not already part of the press release issued, except to confirm the familial relationship between Rosita and Erasmo Chris Torres.

Consider the Case of Raul Esparza

“We are relieved that his murderers were arrested. We have been waiting almost a year for this to happen. We know there is still a long way to go, but in the end, we are hoping justice will be served for him,” the Esparza family said in a statement Aug. 25.

Homicide victim Raul Esparza, 30, of El Centro. | PHOTO COURTESY OF EL CENTRO POLICE DEPARTMENT

The family offered no additional comments.

Raul Esparza’s date of death is believed to be Sept. 17, 2019, although it’s difficult to know if that is the case for certain. While his remains were discovered early that morning, it wouldn’t be until Sept. 20, 2019, that he was identified as the victim of a homicide due to the investigation into the case and autopsy results, according to published reports.

The family reported Esparza missing Sept. 18, 2019.

What gives the time of death some weight is that according to call logs reporting the trash bin fire, a possible suspect was seen in the area wearing a dark hoodie and white shorts, a prior story reports.

Imperial County coroner investigators would not speak about the case, referring all comment to police.

On Aug. 23, marking the spot near where Esparza’s body was discovered, stands a sky blue wall mural with a painting of him adorned with a halo and angels’ wings, with his nickname, “Bubba,” running vertically to the right of his portrait.

In front of the mural is a memorial, with a handwritten white cross that says his name and his date of birth and death (6-9-89 to 9-17-19). Several dozens of flowers, a stereo and several cans of beer sit near solar garden lights. A blue bandana hangs over the cross.

A memorial to homicide victim Raul Esparza is shown up close at the foot of a mural commemorating him near where he was killed and his body was discovered in September 2019. CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

Few details are known about the events surrounding his death from the prior stories, as police had an active investigation going on at the time of the initial media release and no other media reports could be found.

All that is known — or what is alleged, rather — is from the Aug. 24 charging document against Torres and Munguia filed by the Imperial County District Attorney’s Office.  

“On or about Sept. 17,” Torres is alleged to have driven to the home of Esparza, where she picked him up, drove him to an apartment and then picked up co-conspirator Munguia, according to the document.

Torres then “drove (a) vehicle to (the) railroad tracks,” the complaint states, where Esparza was beaten and killed.

Other than what was described in the “overt” acts laid out in the complaint, Assistant DA Owen said no other information would be included at this time; possibly not until a judge would require additional narrative to determine whether prosecutors had enough evidence to move forward with the case.

That would not be determined until a preliminary hearing at the earliest, she said.

Owen explained the complaint, which charges Torres and Munguia together, is just enough information at this point for the benefit of the defense attorneys and defendants, and inclusion of more details in circumstances like this could taint an already limited potential jury pool.  

The location of Esparza’s final resting place was described in initial reports as being behind some businesses in the 900 block of Second Street, just east of the tracks.

That location, according to a map, can also be described as being behind businesses east of the railroad tracks and west of East Hamilton Avenue.

That is the location previously used to describe where Chris Torres was shot and killed a little more than a month earlier, also where an eerily similar mural and memorial sit, if one were to go by description only.

Where the Cases Cross Paths

Literally about a hundred feet from each other to the northwest, yet still east of the railroad tracks, is the memorial for Erasmo Christopher Torres, that full name spelled out in white script with a bold black outline on a bright blue wall.

A Google satellite map shows where memorials to murder victims Erasmo Christopher Torres (red marking) and Raul Esparza (blue marking) were located east of the railroad tracks by Hamilton Avenue in El Centro. It’s also the sites where their remains were found following their killings. Torres’ mother and ex-boyfriend were recently arraigned for the killing of Esparza. Torres’ mother, Rosita Torres, believes Esparza killed her son. | COURTESY IMAGE

Another makeshift memorial with many of the same hallmarks as Esparza’s were there on Aug. 23: A white cross, flowers, cans of beer and empty bottles of liquor left in tribute, solar garden lights.

It’s on that spot where Torres was shot and killed while walking in the area around 4 a.m. Aug. 4, 2019, with his younger brother.  

Chris, which is how the family referred to him, and his little brother were returning from a friend’s house when they were reportedly confronted by a male subject who asked whether they were gang members, family said in a story published Aug. 7, 2019.

Family members in the story, and Rosita Torres in conversations with this newspaper, are adamant that Chris was not a gang member.

Rosita Torres said El Centro police kept referring to the killing as being gang-related despite her protests. However, police nor prosecutors would comment whether the Torres or Esparza slayings were thought to be connected to gangs.

A memorial to murder victim Erasmo Christopher Torres is shown up close at the foot of a mural commemorating him near where he was killed in August 2019. CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

Rosita said on Aug. 17 of this year that Chris was shot three times, twice in the head and once in the mouth, and that she chose to have an open casket at his funeral so people could see what had been done to her son.

“Why did they kill him like that? Why did they shoot him in the head? He was not a gang member of any type,” she said the week before her arrest. “In reality, he was a special education student all his life, a mental health patient all his adult life.”

Rosita Torres was asked when was the last time she had spoken with police regarding her son’s investigation, and she said she last talked with detectives in March, which Torres said ended in an argument in which she stormed out of the police station.

Erasmo Christopher Torres and his young son are shown in this photo sent to the Calexico Chronicle on Aug. 17 by Rosita Deborah Torres before she was arrested on suspicion of murder on Aug. 20. | PHOTO PROVIDED

Other instances where the two cases seemingly cross paths, or nearly did, include the timing of Chris Torres’ funeral and Esparza’s murder. Because the Torres family was raising funds to cover the costs of services, a visitation at a local mortuary did not occur until Sept. 15, 2019, two days before Esparza’s remains were discovered and the date of his killing alleged in the charging document.

Again, Assistant Police Chief Sawyer has said both cases are open and active, but nothing more.

Whether the similarities are circumstantial, or the cases are intertwined, the soonest that might be known, according to Owen’s description of the legal process, could be the first scheduled preliminary hearing for either suspect, which would be for Munguia on Sept. 3.

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