ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Albuquerque man charged in a road rage shooting that killed a 4-year-old girl and sent shockwaves through the state last year has accepted a plea agreement that calls for him to serve a 16-year sentence on one count of second-degree murder, his attorneys said Wednesday.
The plea agreement was reached a day before the long-awaited jury trial of Tony Torrez was scheduled to begin in Albuquerque. Under the agreement, he'll enter an Alford plea, which means he does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence to convict him, said Stephen Taylor, an attorney for Torrez.
Torrez, who was arrested one day after the Oct. 20, 2015, shooting, had been charged with first-degree murder and two counts to commit a violent felony in the death of Albuquerque preschooler Lilly Garcia. He faced the possibility of a life sentence.
In place of the trial, his sentencing hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning when a judge must approve the agreement, said his attorneys said.
"This erases a lot of the uncertainty that he was facing," said Todd Farkas, also an attorney for Torrez. "From his perspective it made sense."
Veronica Rael Garcia, the victim's mother, declined to comment on the agreement, but said she planned to make a statement Thursday.
Police said the girl was sitting in the backseat of her father's pickup truck with her brother as it traveled down Interstate 40.
Torrez, who was driving a sedan, opened fire on the vehicle after a lane-change dispute between him and Alan Garcia, the girl's father, escalated.
One woman who called 911 said Garcia's truck was crossing between lanes and appeared to deliberately keep Torrez's sedan from passing as they argued.
After the shooting, another witness alerted a dispatcher that a pickup truck was stopped on an I-40 median with "an adult holding an unresponsive child," according to a roughly minute-long call released by police.
One of Torrez's bullets struck Lilly in the back of the head, and she died at University of New Mexico Hospital.
Torrez drove off and was arrested following a search for his vehicle that involved the FBI.
Authorities announced $25,000 in rewards for information leading to an arrest in the case before an anonymous caller reported him. Detectives took him into custody at an Albuquerque home.
He told investigators that he feared for his life when he opened fire, and did not know children were in the backseat. He said Garcia had driven him off the road and intended for the shots fired at the vehicle to serve as warning shots, he said.
This story replaces a previous version to clarify that Torrez is expected to make an Alford plea, which means he does not admit guilt but acknowledges there is enough evidence for a conviction.