Steamboat public defender argues man charged with attempted murder ‘shot to scare’
October 18, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The defense strategy became clear during opening statements Friday at the attempted-murder trial taking place at the Routt County Justice Center.
"The shot that Mr. (Steven) Torres fired at the Tap House bar was a shot to scare," Public Defender Sheryl Uhlmann said to the jury. "It wasn't a shot to kill."
Torres has been charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Routt County Deputy District Attorney Eliot Thompson began his opening statement by repeating a threat that he said Torres made while being escorted out of the bar by bouncers.
"I'm going to shoot you," Thompson said. "I'm going to cap you."
Moments after being escorted out of the bar, Thompson said, Torres pulled out a gun and fired a single shot down the stairs toward the two male bouncers and a female employee. Thompson said one of the bouncers felt the wind from the bullet going past his leg. The bullet did not hit anyone and instead struck the basement floor near the bottom of the stairs.
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Torres also has been charged with one count of illegal discharge of a firearm and three crime of violence charges that are known as sentence enhancers related to the use of a firearm. Torres has been in custody since the incident in June. In court Friday, he wore a white dress shirt and persistently looked straight ahead during opening statements and testimony. Torres’ hair now is cut short.
Uhlmann argued during opening statements that Torres never said the word "shoot," and she told jurors what Torres had been doing before being escorted out of the bar. She said Torres was not buying anything at the bar. He had headphones on, and he was listening to music by himself.
"He made people nervous because he wasn't like them, and it seemed strange," Uhlmann said.
Once outside the bar, Uhlmann said Torres slowly took the gun from his pocket. The bouncers saw the gun that Torres had kept inside a plastic bag.
"They did what what anyone would do," Uhlmann said. "They turned, and they ran. They ran fast."
Uhlmann said Torres was not aiming at anyone, and the bouncers were clear of the stairs when Torres fired the shot.
"They cleared the stairs, and he shot to scare," Uhlmann said.
With bullets still in the magazine of the .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol, Uhlmann said Torres looked at some Steamboat visitors who had just left the bar, and Torres ran away. Police arrested him a couple of blocks away. While searching Torres, police found the gun he used to fire the shot.
"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that was an OK thing to do, a right thing to do or a legal thing to do," Uhlmann said. "That was not attempted murder."
Uhlmann argued that Torres knew how to handle guns. She said he had attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and had been a helicopter pilot.
The prosecution's first witness was Steamboat Springs Police Department officer Kiel Petkoff, who responded to the rear entrance of the bar and made his way through a crowd of people who were yelling and screaming as they left.
During Petkoff's testimony, Thompson introduced several pieces of evidence, including the gun and pictures of the bar as well as the black hat, headphones and white sunglasses that Torres had been wearing. The trial is scheduled to resume Monday and go through Friday.