NORRISTOWN — Saying a New York man, during an ongoing custody case, terrorized his 7-year-old daughter when he showed up with two armed men wearing body armor and abducted her from the Cheltenham Township home where she was staying with relatives, a judge sent the man to jail.
“At some point your sentence is going to expire. I suggest to you, her (the little girl’s) memories of those days won’t. You didn’t make your child safer. Your child wasn’t safer that day. There were people with guns and things can do wrong,” Montgomery County Judge Thomas M. DelRicci addressed Juan Pablo Torres as he sentenced Torres to 11.5 to 23 months in the county jail for interfering with the custody of a child.
Torres, who testimony revealed is the nephew through marriage of actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, also must serve one year of consecutive probation, meaning he will be under court supervision for about three years.
During a nonjury trial, DelRicci convicted Torres, 43, of Flushing, NY, of charges of interference with the custody of a child, concealment of whereabouts of a child and false imprisonment in connection with the Sept. 25, 2020, incident that unfolded outside a residence at 7900 block of Montgomery Avenue in the Elkins Park section of Cheltenham where the little girl was staying with maternal relatives.
“He pulled up in a car with armed guards and drove off with the child. She was not free to exercise her liberty that day. She was confined. He didn’t tell anyone where he was going. He took the child and drove away,” DelRicci said at one point.
The judge acquitted Torres of charges of simple assault, recklessly ending another person, ending the welfare of a child and terrorist threats. Prosecutors withdrew a charge of kidnapping during the trial.
The judge ordered Torres to begin serving the sentence immediately and he was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies. Torres did not comment on the case as he was escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Hopkins’s wife, Stella, who is Torres’s aunt, traveled from the United Kingdom to support Torres during his sentencing hearing and wept when she learned Torres was headed to jail.
“Juan Pablo loves his daughter. He’s a very kind, gentleman. This is a very gentle man. He doesn’t have one iota of evil in his heart,” Stella Hopkins told the judge.
But DelRicci described Torres as a “narcissist” who believed he knew better than the New York judge overseeing the custody case and perceived himself as “the victim.” The judge added Torres didn’t care about the negative impact the plan he “concocted” would have on his daughter and said not once did he hear Torres say that he was sorry for how the incident affected the little girl.
The girl’s guardians testified the girl suffered nightmares and that a little girl once filled with “brightness” now has sadness. The girl, now 9, clung to a stuffed toy rabbit as struggled to testify about the incident during the trial.
Addressing Torres directly, the judge said if he really cared for the girl’s well-being, “how can you possibly disregard the terror or potential psychological impact” of taking the child from a place where she was comfortable and with those she loved.
Assistant District Attorney Karla Pisarcik sought a jail sentence for Torres.
“Based on the trauma that the child suffered I think jail time was appropriate particularly because the defendant really wasn’t showing that he was taking any accountability or responsibility for the crimes that he committed,” said Pisarcik who argued at trial that Torres viewed the child as property that he wanted to take back.
“There’s a process in family courts and when you don’t follow that process in family courts, you don’t follow a court order, it becomes a criminal matter and this defendant simply thought he was above the law,” Pisarcik said.
But defense lawyer A. Charles Peruto Jr. argued for a probationary sentence for Torres. “I don’t believe this is a case for incarceration,” Peruto argued, adding Torres loves his daughter. “You have a father frustrated with the court system. It was total frustration with the court system.
“I don’t think there’s any chance he will do this again. I don’t think the jail bothers him as much as losing custody does,” Peruto added after the hearing.
According to testimony, after the child’s mother died, a New York family court judge in August 2020 granted temporary physical custody of the child to her maternal grandmother. While there was a reunification process underway regarding Torres’s contact with the child, court orders did not award Torres custody and he did not have permission from the child’s guardian to have the child in his care, according to a criminal complaint filed by Cheltenham detectives Ryan Murray and Denise Tecce.
While the maternal grandmother visited other family members in North Carolina for a few days beginning on Sept. 23, 2020, the child temporarily was staying with her maternal aunt and her partner in Cheltenham.
The maternal aunt testified that as she exited her residence on Sept. 25 with her partner and her niece on their way to get ice cream, two vehicles pulled up to the residence and Torres, accompanied by two armed men wearing body armor, took the little girl from her custody, entered one of the vehicles with the child and then both vehicles fled from the area.
“I saw their weapons. I had a knee jerk reaction to run after the car,” the aunt testified adding her niece “looked scared” as Torres whisked her away.
The aunt called 911 and Cheltenham police said an Amber Alert was issued.
Several hours later, New York City police made contact with Torres and convinced him to turn himself in and NYPD officers took custody of the little girl, who was unharmed. When Torres addressed the judge, he claimed the armed men were security guards who were simply there to “observe” a peaceful transfer.
The judge questioned that testimony.
“If people were there to observe, they don’t bring guns. They bring cameras. They don’t bring bulletproof vests, they bring notepads,” DelRicci responded to Torres.
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