Mother and daughter testify in Hammond home invasion trial

A mother and daughter recounted their ordeal Tuesday during a Nov. 13, 2021, Hammond home invasion.

Valentine Torrez, 49, of Hammond is on trial this week. He is charged with two counts of rape, one count of child molesting, armed robbery, two counts of criminal confinement and one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon, court records show.

When the case first surfaced, Torrez, their relative, said he stopped by a second time that day and was in the kitchen when co-defendant Garrett Whittenburg walked in.

Prosecutors later alleged that story was a ruse. When DNA results from both victims’ sexual assault kits came back linked to Torrez, he was charged in April 2022. Prosecutors allege he sexually assaulted the woman and fondled the daughter.

They accuse Torrez and Whittenburg of planning the robbery to sexually assault the woman and take her credit cards. Her cell phone was also stolen.

The mother told defense lawyer Kerry Connor on the stand Tuesday that she said earlier in the case that there might have been a third man in the home, because she thought she heard Torrez struggling with someone in the kitchen. When Deputy Prosecutor Arturo Balcazar later asked if she heard any other voices beside Torrez, initially, and one other man, she said no.

During the home invasion, she was dragged to the bathroom where a towel was placed over her head. She was dragged with her vision covered back to the sofa, where a Black man forced her to perform a sex act, and a different man assaulted her from behind.

As part of his plea deal, Whittenburg originally told prosecutors he assaulted the woman, then watched Torrez rape her. However, according to a recent court filing, Whittenburg stopped cooperating when he refused to give a deposition on March 22. He is not testifying at trial.

The woman’s daughter testified next.

Clad in French braids, the girl, now 14, said in a soft-spoken voice that she was sleeping on the living room sofa and woke up as the second man went inside the home. She was scared and pretended to be asleep when the other man appeared to start yelling at Torrez.

She said Torrez, her relative, appeared to “reason” with the man, telling him he couldn’t tie up the child.

The girl said she was blindfolded and taken by a man to her room. She hesitated for several moments before recalling what happened.

“It felt like forever,” she said.

When the men left, her mom got her, found her phone and called 911, the girl said.

Earlier, when asked by Deputy Prosecutor Lindsay Lanham to identify Torrez in the courtroom, the child started crying. In between questions and on breaks, she looked down.

The trial continued Wednesday.

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