On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.
Defendant: Donald Torres (14)
Victims: Harry Godt, Jennifer Godt, Jon Godt (age four), Jennifer Godt (age one and a half)
Crimes: Four counts of first degree murder
Crime date: February 24, 1989 in Middletown, Delaware
Donald Torres broke into his neighbor’s house, doused the floor with kerosene, set the house ablaze, and watched as the flames spread, killing a family of four.
Shortly before midnight on February 24, 1989, 14-year-old Donald Torres broke into the home of his neighbors, the Godts. He found a can of kerosene, spread the liquid over the kitchen floor and stairway leading to the bedrooms, and ignited the kerosene with a lighter and some newspaper.
Torres went outside and watched as the flames spread. He saw Harry Godt run from the house in his underwear, screaming about his family, and then re-enter the burning home in an attempt to save them. The flames quickly reached the home’s kerosene heater and then engulfed the entire house. By the time the fire department had extinguished the blaze, the home, as well as three neighboring residences had been destroyed.
Harry Godt’s body was found inside the house, where he had died trying to shield his wife, Jennifer, from the flames. The bodies of the Godts’ two children (Jon, age four, and Samantha, age one and a half) lay nearby.
While the fire raged, Torres returned to his home and told his parents that he had been asleep, in his clothes, in his room when he had been awakened by the commotion down the street. Over the next several weeks, however, he bragged to at least three friends that he had started the fire and admitted as much to his mother.
When questioned by police two months after the fire, Torres initially denied any involvement but eventually admitted that he had intentionally started the fire to get back at Harry Godt because Godt had accused Torres of teaching his son, Jon, to play with matches. Torres acknowledged that he knew that the rest of the Godt family was in the home when he started the fire.
Torres was convicted by a jury and sentenced to eight consecutive terms of life without the possibility of parole.
Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.