Press

Man will stand trial for arson while in custody

Northeast Times

A man who was arrested on rape charges last April and then set himself on fire while in police custody, injuring at least one officer, will stand trial on arson charges in December.

Defendant Alex Torro was scheduled to be tried last week in the courtroom of Common Pleas Judge Lisa M. Rau but the trial date was rescheduled for Dec. 20.

That’s because Torro, 28, is now represented by private counsel – as opposed to a public defender – and his attorney had not been furnished with discovery, an exchange of evidence between the prosecution and defense. Torro, who was using the alias Javier Rodriguez when booked by police on April 11, originally was charged with attempted rape, aggravated and indecent assault, arson and risking a catastrophe.

Theresa Casey, an assistant district attorney with the felony waiver unit, explained that Torro now faces only an arson charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 to 20 years.

The defendant waived his right to a jury trial.

Originally, said Casey, the arson and rape cases were being tried and handled separately. Following a June 20 preliminary hearing, however, the assault and rape charges were dropped. Christopher Mallios, chief of the district attorney’s family violence and sex crimes unit, which was assigned to prosecute Torro on the rape charges, said that the victim of the attempted rape decided against testifying in court.

“The victim didn’t want to come to court,” he said. “Of course, we have the ability to force people to testify, but in this case we opted not to pursue that route. We decided to just go after him for the arson.” Michael J. Diamondstein, an attorney with the Center City firm of Louis J. Savino & Associates, appeared on Torro’s behalf at last week’s hearing. Savino, the attorney who will defend him at trial, did not return calls from a Times reporter seeking comment. Torro was arrested last spring when two women told police that he had attempted to rape them in their Summerdale home.

Authorities at the time said that Torro was a boarder at a home on the 4700 block of Roosevelt Blvd. He allegedly asked the owner of the home, a 52-year-old woman, for sex. When she refused, said police, Torro tried to force himself on her.

Hearing the commotion, police said the woman’s 25-year-old daughter came to her mother’s rescue. Torro then allegedly assaulted the young woman. The women left the home and went to Episcopal Hospital, where they were treated for injuries. While at the hospital, they alerted police of the incident. Officers who traveled to the scene of the assault saw Torro walking on a nearby street and arrested him. He was taken to the police department’s special victims unit in the Arsenal Business Center – formerly the Frankford Arsenal – in Bridesburg. Around 3:45 p.m. on April 11, Torro began banging on the walls of his cell. Police officials responded to find the suspect’s clothing engulfed in flames.

While dousing the fire, 15th Police District Officer Marc Jurowicz burned two fingers on his left hand. Torro used a book of matches he had concealed inside his underwear to light his clothes on fire while he was locked in the holding cell.

He was treated at Temple University Hospital for second-degree burns suffered on his chest, back and arms.

By: Julian Walker