Jury set to start deliberations in Grand Forks Flying J murder case
FARGO—After U.S. Attorney Chris Myers announced the government had rested its case accusing a man of ordering the 2016 murder of 24-year-old Austin Forsman, the defendant turned to his family in the courtroom to reassure them.
"I think the evidence shows I never ordered to kill this kid," Modesto Torrez told his family.
That decision is now in the hands of a 12-member jury who will determine whether the government proved Torrez called for Forsman's murder at the Flying J truckstop in Grand Forks and was a leader of a meth distribution ring in the Red River Valley.
The jury decided to begin its deliberations at 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, after closing arguments in the case wrapped Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 4.
Jurors heard testimony from 17 witnesses brought by the government, four of whom were among the 12 co-conspirators charged alongside Torrez in a superseding indictment addressing the murder and the meth trafficking ring that spawned it. Torrez is the lone alleged conspirator to opt for a jury trial. The rest, including shooter Krystal Lynn Feist, have pleaded guilty and many have been sentenced.
In closing arguments, Myers reminded jurors of testimony stating Torrez had partnered with Ryan Franklin, and instructed Franklin to go to the Twin Cities on two occasions to pick up a total of 11 pounds of meth and bring it back to the Red River Valley for distribution. He reminded them of witness testimony that Torrez asked Feist if she could get a gun, and eyewitnesses to the murder recalling Feist yelling "Yes or no!" into the phone at Torrez before shooting Forsman.
"She doesn't jump out and do this on her own," Myers said. "She's asking for clarification."
He described everyone else in the case, including Feist, as small-timers following orders.
"They're minions," Myers said of the co-conspirators, showing the jurors a photo of a Pixar Minion holding a bong in a PowerPoint slide. "They work for him."
Defense attorney Charles Stock told jurors the government rejected versions of the story they didn't like until co-conspirators, each seeking to avoid prosecution or harsher sentences, told investigators what they wanted to hear: that Torrez ordered the shooting.
"What the government presented here is a made-for-TV plot," Stock said.
He asked why prosecutors didn't call for Lorie Ortiz, who witnesses say was with Torrez the night of the shooting, to testify. He called into question inconsistencies in the testimonies of Torre Risberg and other witnesses, and reminded them Risberg was a cooperating government informant who changed his statements to law enforcement multiple times.
"The government was not critical of its investigation of its own witnesses," Stock said. "Torre Risberg led the government on a goose chase."
Stock reminded them of Morado's testimony that he was on the phone with Torrez when he got into Feist's car at the Flying J and said he was also asking Torrez a question when Feist heard the fateful "yes."
Stock pointed to Morado's testimony that Torrez had told them to meet at the Flying J where there would be cameras and everyone would be safe. He asked why his client would use his phone throughout the night if he knew a shooting was to take place.
"It defies common sense," Stock said.
Phone records presented
North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations Agent Steve Gilpin testified to phone records obtained via search warrants for Torrez, Feist, Morado and Risberg.
The records showed multiple calls and texts between Torrez and Morado and Torrez and Feist leading up to the murder, which backed up testimony heard in the trial. There was record of a call from Torrez to Morado at 4:01 a.m., the exact time Forsman was killed, matching testimony offered about the fateful "Yes or No" inquiry.