By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Despite her psychological challenges, Kristen was able to hold down a job at Jack in the Box and move into management training. "I didn't have much experience being an adult," she says. "I didn't have much experience other than work. The only thing I learned with Eric was to be a hard worker. That's what I did."
Back from Kansas, at first she lived in a homeless shelter, then with a paternal aunt — "My father doesn't want to meet us," she says — and then found a place with Will that had room for the kids. She wanted to create a home for her children, even though she'd never had a real home herself. "Although she knows it will be a challenge to parent four children, she has stated that she is ready to do it, and feels she has the tools and support to be successful," a July 2009 Human Services evaluation notes.
Kristen was overly optimistic. She got the boys back, then the girls. Four kids under the age of seven: It was too much. In September 2009, "it was decided that all four children would be placed back into foster care," Human Services reports. "Ms. Stillman expressed being overwhelmed, and feeling like she could not take care of all four children at that time."
And she had plenty to feel overwhelmed about. The girl who wouldn't talk was now going to be the star witness at the January 2010 jury trial that Eric Torrez had demanded.
The courthouse was crazy that week: the trial of Willie Clark for the murder of Bronco Darrent Williams was going on, and the media was all over that. But they missed the drama unfolding right next door, which amazed court officials. The national news was still full of the story of Jaycee Dugard, the California girl who'd been kidnapped by Phillip Garrido, then hidden in his yard for years, while she gave birth to two children. Kristen's story was even more spectacular — and it had happened in our own back yard.
Kristen was on the witness stand for two days, telling all the horrible stories she'd first told Phil Stanford, the unspeakable stories that had turned out to be all too true. "I felt like passing out," she remembers. "I'm not good at public speaking." But if she did, Eric would win again.
In the middle of the trial, Eric Torrez suddenly decided to plead guilty: to five counts of sexual assault on a child, eight counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, two counts of sexual assault on a child, pattern of abuse, one count of sexual assault and one count of sexual assault, position of trust — pattern of abuse. (Other charges against him, involving an alleged assault on another child in the neighborhood, had already been dropped because of the statute of limitations.)
After Eric pleaded, Linda Torrez pleaded guilty to sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust; she was later given an indeterminate-to-life probation sentence with a minimum of twenty years.
Andres Torrez, who was really the grandfather, not the great-grandfather, of the girl he'd abused, had died in jail.
Patrick Torrez had already pleaded guilty in October 2009 to second-degree assault and contributing to the delinquency of a minor; he is now a registered sex offender sentenced to an eight-year program. "It is likely that Mr. Patrick Torrez has been a victim of some type of abuse or neglect by his father Eric, or his grandfather Andres, based on the severity of his father's and grandfather's offenses against other children," reads one Human Services report.
Karen Stillman had pleaded guilty in November 2009 to child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury, and had already started a sixteen-year prison term. "She completely lost it in jail," Kristen says. "It made me sad to hear her only concern was her cats, not her kids. Not even an 'I'm sorry.'"
Eric Torrez never said he was sorry, either. On May 13, 2010, he was sentenced to the maximum prison sentence possible: Three hundred years in the Colorado Department of Corrections. Will and Kristen Stillman both spoke at the sentencing hearing; so did Detective Stanford. As he handed down the sentence, Denver District Court Judge Ken Laff said he hoped that Torrez would spend the rest of his life in prison for what he had done to his victims.
For months, Kristen juggled her schedule of work, counseling, appointments with investigators and visitations with her children, who had lived together and apart, moving through several foster homes. The girls would ask about their father; Kristen has told them just that he's in jail. "I don't talk bad about him. He never hurt them physically," she says. But she did tell her oldest daughter that she doesn't like him. "That's all they know."
It hurt to see her kids, to have them ask when they were going home. "I thought I could handle this a lot better," Kristen admits. "I feel bad when I haven't seen my kids, but I feel bad when I see them. It hurts too much. It's easier not to see them."