Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Tony Rackauckas hosted the 9th Annual Victims’ Rights Rally in remembrance of murdered loved ones, in celebration of survivors, and in honor of victims’ rights. The Rally is hosted every year during Victims Rights Week and serves as an empowering platfom for victims’ voices. Hundreds of victims, family, friends, law enforcement, and community leaders congregated at the Orange County Hall of Administration and held a candlelight vigil at the Rally.
The Orange County Victims’ Rights event was established in 2009 and has since become a meaningful milestone for all victims of crime. Orange County is and always has been the place where reform begins, and the OCDA has fought actively for victims’ rights over several decades. OCDA Rackauckas fought diligently to pass the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act Proposition 115, Gang reform Proposition 21, DNA reform Proposition 69. Additionally, he worked tirelessly to fight against the weakening of Three Strikes Law by opposing Proposition 66 and against the repeal of the death penalty by opposing Proposition 62, passing Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, Marsy’s Law, and many others.
“Prime Minister Winston Churchill who helped save our freedom by fighting the Nazis said, ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’ We will always outnumber the bad guys, and we will keep going in the name of our innocent crime victims,” stated Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas to the crowd. “We dedicate our public life and service to all those harmed by crime, to bring justice, to fight your fight, and to defend your rights. Every year, we will work together to assert our rights and protect our community.”
The event was held at the Hall of Administration in downtown Santa Ana. All victims were welcome to come together in a respectful setting for a reception where they could share their experiences with other victims and associated advocates before the ceremony. The Rally included a Presentation of the Colors by the Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) Honor Guard, Pledge of Allegiance by Orange County Probation Department Chief Steven Sentman, National Anthem by Deputy District Attorney Anna Chinowth, Moment of Silence and remarks by Orange County Clerk-Recorder Hugh Nguyen, presentation of proclamation and a Board resolution by the Orange County Board of Supervisors to Community Service Programs, Inc., Marsy’s Law updates by Dr. Henry T. Nicholas III, and a performance of the Bill Withers song “Lean On Me” by Unplugged, an a capella group made up of the Orange County School of the Arts students.
The keynote speakers were Kelli Peters, a parent volunteer who was stalked, harassed, and ultimately framed for drug possession by Kent and Jill Easter, and Tina Mora, sister of 1994 murder victim Cathy Torrez.
At the commencement of the ceremony, victims and guests were provided white and red carnations to take to their loved ones, as well as fresh sprigs of rosemary, the herb of remembrance.
Kelli Peters a survivor and a victim of Jill and Kent Easter, who were found guilty of false imprisonment effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit. On Oct. 17, 2014, Kent Easter was sentenced to 180 days in jail, 100 hours community service, three years formal probation, and was ordered to pay victim’s restitution. Shortly after, Jill Easter was sentenced to sentenced to 120 days in jail, 100 hours community service, three years formal probation, and was ordered to pay victim’s restitution.
In 2010, Peters was a parent volunteer at an elementary school in Irvine, where the defendant’s child was a student. Jill Easter became angry with the victim because she believed Peters was not properly supervising her child. In February 2011, the defendants plotted to have Peters arrested in retaliation.
During the early morning hours of Feb. 16, 2011, Kent Easter drove to Peters’ home and placed a bag of controlled substances which included Vicodin, Percocet, marijuana, and a used marijuana pipe behind the driver’s seat of her unlocked vehicle. Shortly thereafter, Kent Easter called the Irvine Police Department (IPD) and said he was a concerned parent who had witnessed an erratic driver park at the elementary school. He claimed to have witnessed Peters, whom he identified by name, hide a bag of drugs behind her driver’s seat in her car. Peters was contacted on the school campus and detained for approximately two hours as IPD investigated the case. The victim consented to a search of her home and vehicle, which showed no evidence to support that she was knowingly in possession of the marijuana or prescription pills found in her vehicle.
At the 9th annual Victims’ Rights Rally, Peters delivered an emotional speech and encouraged victims to turn their pain into strength. “The experience has changed my life but it has made me stronger and for that I am grateful,” she told the crowd. “I am considered a victim, but I refuse to live my life as one.”
Tina Mora is the sister of homicide victim Cathy Torrez who was murdered on Feb. 19, 1994. Torrez was stabbed over 70 times and left in the trunk of her abandoned car in Placentia by Samuel and Xavier Lopez. Her case was cold for 15 years. On May 1, 2015, Samuel Lopez was found guilty by a jury of murder with a sentencing enhancement for use of a deadly and dangerous weapon and sentenced to 26 years to life in state prison. Xavier Lopez pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and being an accessory after the fact and was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail.
On the evening of Feb. 12, 1994, Torrez, a 20-year-old honors student at California State University, Fullerton, left work from Sav-On Drug Store in Placentia. She met with her then boyfriend, Samuel Lopez, in a nearby parking lot. During the course of an argument in the victim’s car, Lopez attacked Torrez with a knife. The victim attempted to flee from the vehicle, but Lopez chased after her and stabbed Torrez repeatedly in the face, head, and torso. The defendant’s cousin, Xavier Lopez, closed the trunk of the victim’s car, where Torrez’s body was stored after Samuel Lopez murdered her.
A week later, the victim’s red Toyota Corolla was discovered in the parking lot of Placentia-Linda Hospital. Torrez’s body was found inside the trunk with several dozen stab wounds. Samuel and Xavier Lopez provided an alibi for each other on the night of the murder and the case went unsolved for over a decade.
In 2007, the Orange County District Attorney’s Task Force review aimed at catching Killers, Rapists, and Sexual offenders (TracKRS) and Placentia Police Department began investigating this case when new DNA evidence technology linked Samuel Lopez and Xavier Lopez to the crime.
Torrez’s family opened the Cathy Torrez Learning Center in Placentia in her honor.
During Mora’s speech at the Rally, she challenged victims and survivors to maintain the memory of their loved ones by investing time in fighting for victims’ rights as she has done for her sister Cathy. Mora stated that her family will forever hold Cathy’s memory. “Time passes and I believe the wounds of pain are real,” she said. “Time can help you heal your wounds.”
Co-Sponsors and Donors
The OCDA would like to extend special thanks to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) and SAPD for their time, service, and support at the 2017 Victims’ Rights Rally.
For their contributions, the OCDA would also like to thank OCSD, SAPD, the Association of Orange County Deputy District Attorneys – Civic Action Committee, Orange County District Attorney Investigators Association, Community Service Programs, Inc., the Orange County Board of Supervisors, Dr. Henry Nicholas III, Michael Schroeder, Susan Kang Schroeder, and Starbucks at 17th Street and Grand Avenue.
This article was released by the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.