Mexican National Not Entitled To New Trial Even Though Expert Witness Convicted Of Perjury

Teodoro Gomez-Torres (Photo courtesy Arizona Dept. of Corrections)

A man who faces deportation to Mexico upon completing a 20-year prison term for sexual abuse of a minor is not entitled to post-conviction relief even though the expert witness who testified at his trial later admitted to perjury in another case, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled last week.

Teodoro Gomez-Torres, now 75, was found guilty in September 2014 by a Mohave County Superior Court jury of six felonies committed between January 2010 and August 2012. The offenses included child molestation, sexual abuse, and aggravated assault of a minor involving two children under the age of 15.

In September 2018, Gomez-Torres initiated a third post-conviction relief proceeding on the grounds of “newly discovered material facts” involving a key prosecution witness.  That witness was Carli M. Moncher, a forensic interviewer who worked for the Safe Child Center in Mohave County from March 2014 to April 2017.

Moncher testified at Gomez-Torres’ trial as a “cold expert” in the area of child sexual abuse. Such an expert is someone who has no direct contact with the victims in a case but instead testifies based on their knowledge or experience of the overall subject matter.

In his post-conviction action, Gomez-Torres focused on the fact Moncher was charged in April 2018 with 24 felonies for allegedly falsifying timesheets and travel reimbursement forms, as well as creating fake subpoenas giving the impression her attendance was required at court proceedings.

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Moncher pleaded guilty in August 2018 to felony perjury and theft. The perjury charge involved her expert testimony in another criminal case during which she claimed to only be receiving her regular wage for her appearance. However, she was also billing the Mohave County Attorney’s Office, which led to the theft conviction.

A Mohave County judge held an evidentiary hearing on Gomez-Torres’ arguments that he was entitled to a new trial in order to challenge Moncher’s credibility. The judge denied relief in August 2019, noting Moncher’s criminal activity was not connected to her cold expert testimony in the Gomez-Torres case and that it “would not have changed” the jury’s verdict.

On Oct. 22, the court of appeals similarly denied Gomez-Torres’ request for relief.

“Evidence of (Moncher’s) misconduct was not material,” the 3-0 decision states. “Put another way, how much and by whom (Monsher) was paid for her work as an expert witness had no bearing on the jury’s determination of guilt or innocence.”

Gomez-Torres has until Nov. 22 to petition for review by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Arizona Department of Corrections shows Gomez-Torres is not eligible for early release, putting his sentence end date as March 5, 2033.  There is a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer on his ADC file, which indicates federal officials intend to pursue deportation at the time of his release.

Moncher was sentenced in November 2018 to four months in state prison followed by three years of supervised probation. Court records show her term of probation was terminated in June.