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  • Adult Time for Adult Crime: Donald Torres

    On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.

    Defendant: Donald Torres (14)
    Victims: Harry Godt, Jennifer Godt, Jon Godt (age four), Jennifer Godt (age one and a half)
    Crimes: Four counts of first degree murder
    Crime date: February 24, 1989 in Middletown, Delaware

    Summary
    Donald Torres broke into his neighbor’s house, doused the floor with kerosene, set the house ablaze, and watched as the flames spread, killing a family of four.

    Facts
    Shortly before midnight on February 24, 1989, 14-year-old Donald Torres broke into the home of his neighbors, the Godts. He found a can of kerosene, spread the liquid over the kitchen floor and stairway leading to the bedrooms, and ignited the kerosene with a lighter and some newspaper.

    Torres went outside and watched as the flames spread. He saw Harry Godt run from the house in his underwear, screaming about his family, and then re-enter the burning home in an attempt to save them. The flames quickly reached the home’s kerosene heater and then engulfed the entire house. By the time the fire department had extinguished the blaze, the home, as well as three neighboring residences had been destroyed.

    Harry Godt’s body was found inside the house, where he had died trying to shield his wife, Jennifer, from the flames. The bodies of the Godts’ two children (Jon, age four, and Samantha, age one and a half) lay nearby.

    While the fire raged, Torres returned to his home and told his parents that he had been asleep, in his clothes, in his room when he had been awakened by the commotion down the street. Over the next several weeks, however, he bragged to at least three friends that he had started the fire and admitted as much to his mother.

    When questioned by police two months after the fire, Torres initially denied any involvement but eventually admitted that he had intentionally started the fire to get back at Harry Godt because Godt had accused Torres of teaching his son, Jon, to play with matches. Torres acknowledged that he knew that the rest of the Godt family was in the home when he started the fire.

    Torres was convicted by a jury and sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.

    Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

    Posted in Legal [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Adult Time for Adult Crime: Donald Torres

    1. Leon, Durango, CO says:

      This guy probably deserves Life In Prison because the multiple murder shows calloused indifference to human life. We don't need to change the Law just because Liberals want to rewrite everything with a fascist twist. This guy probably deserves it, and other profoundly insane murderers, but every murder does not deserve Life In Prison.

      Arson is murder, everybody knows that. No doubt we don't teach Civics in our schools. The little dear probably didn't know. Lots of arsonists are in prison, his sentence should not exceed theirs just because he was a juvenile. Nor, because all the Liberal prosecutors were born yesterday.

    2. Sandra List, Dover, says:

      I knew Harry Godt as a young man in college. It is sickening to think of his dying in such a violent way, and equally sickening to think of his wife and we little ones dying thus. Not to mention the other neighbors who lost their homes and posessions. I think Torres has had all the compassion he can expect from the system. It is not safe for him to be on the street. Obviously, if he was teaching the little boy to play with matches, he had an unhealthy fascination with fire. He is safer inside. We are safer for it.

    3. MFG Dover,DE says:

      At the time of the incident I spoke with the AG office, due to the fact there was some abuse going on to the defendent possibly by Mr. Godt. I was also informed by his peers that he did not act alone. I do not know if there was any investigation or not in regards to this info. At 14 years old a childs brain is not fully developed. This crime was horrific. It is inexcusable that anyone would do this. I don't feel all the evidence was presented..but can't be sure. I think a child crime should be differently assessed than that of an adult. Parole should be an option.

    4. Grew up Odessa, Odes says:

      I was one of the "Friends" that was bragged to. I knew Torres and his family growing up. Donald always scared me. He just had this way about him that showed he did not care. He knew what he was doing, and he had no remorse afterward. Just to think about someone actually dying gives me the chills, but he caused the deaths and said he got "strength" out of it.

      I hope Donald has found remorse and compassion for his actions and the family that he destroyed. I hope he has come to see his actions as wrong and their ghosts haunt his every breathing moment. Only then could he be rehabilitated. Unfortunately going to prison so young (which is where he belonged) can not have done him any good. I would fear for others safety if he were ever released.

      And I hate to disagree with MFG Dover, but even though a 14yr old brain is not fully developed, it can understand what death is, that killing is wrong, and that killing someone is punishable. Donald knew what he did was wrong, and he knew that this was not some prank. He knew exactly the consequence of lighting that fire and hoped for the worst. At one point he said that he would get off if caught because he was a minor. I am glad he didn't.

    5. thinkglobalfuture says:

      I am the sister to Harry Godt Jr.. I wish I had read this earlier. I appreciate the time people took to make their opinions known. Does anyone reading this remember Mr. Torres responce when questioned about the children? When asked about my brother Torres said that he deserved to die. Ref the children, if I remember correctly, the responce was "So?" My Samantha's body was found fused to her mother's, Jon was found five feet from the front door where he had possibly landed after rolling down the stairs. Can anyone reading this imagine the memories I carry? My mother wailing "My babies, my babies" when a caloused news programme aired the footage of the burning house – horrible. Such reportage should not be allowed.

      I know more than about Torres' childhood than was allowed in the court records. Not was the information that he had been a bully in school and a known pyro since the age of 4. First of all, child services failed Torres for years. This was not a singular event. Does Torres deserve to be incarcerated for life? I don't know. Has he recieved counsuling? Could he be a productive, TRUSTED member of society?

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