Murder case in 1994 kicks off new TV show focusing on human side of detectives

By Greg Hardesty

No stranger to the TV cameras, Anaheim PD PIO Sgt. Daron Wyatt recently was featured on a prime-time crime show, “The Price of Duty,” a new series from Oxygen Media.

The show, however, was different from his previous national TV appearances on Dateline NBC and other crime tabloids — episodes that detailed homicide cases on which he was the lead detective.

Although each episode of “The Price of Duty” dives into the facts of high-profile murder cases, what makes it different from most shows is the focus is on the homicide detectives themselves — and how these cases affect them and their families, even years after the fact.

“Daron Wyatt,” which aired June 11 as the premiere episode of “The Price of Duty,” recounted the haunting murder of Cathy Torres, a vibrant Cal State Fullerton student who was slain at age 20 on Feb. 12, 1994.

Wyatt first started working on the Torres case, which had gone cold, during his early years as a homicide detective for the Placentia PD. Wyatt assumed responsibility for the case in 1997 when first assigned to homicide.

Shortly after taking the case, he became a father for the first time with the birth of his daughter, Lindsey.

And that, he said, changed everything.

“It made it more personal,” Wyatt said of working homicide cases. “It changed the level of compassion I feel toward victims’ families. Every victim now became someone’s son or daughter.”

Wyatt still becomes emotional when discussing the Torres case, and a lot of that emotion is captured on “The Price of Duty” episode.

He got emotional again when he was asked to speak to the Orange County chapter of the national support group Mothers of Murdered Children after the show aired.

“I really had a hard time talking about how I related my daughter’s birth to my dedication to the (Torres) case,” Wyatt said. “I also get emotional when I talk about the level of trust (Torres’ family) placed in me, as well as the unconditional care that I feel from them.”

Wyatt said “The Price of Duty” humanizes current and former homicide detectives like himself who dedicate their professional lives to investigating murders — typically, at a great personal cost, such as in lost time with loved ones.

“And you can’t make up the lost time,” Wyatt says.

He had many sleepless nights as he was driven by a huge responsibility to help make sure Torres’ killer would be held accountable for the heinous crime.

“Always In Our Hearts” reads the button with Cathy Torres’ photo on it on display in Anaheim PD Sgt. Daron Wyatt’s office. Torres was murdered in 1994. The case was solved years later due to the persistence of Wyatt and other officers and members of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Homicide detectives are a unique breed,” Wyatt said. “They are immensely dedicated and they truly live the cases. They have to be skeptical, critical and have the ability to think on their feet and process a lot of information in a short period of time. They also have to have a good memory.”

Wyatt was lead investigator on the Torres case for 18 of the 21 years it took from the time of her slaying to the conviction of her killer, Samuel Agustin Lopez, on March 3, 2015.

At his sentencing on May 2, 2015, when he was sent to prison for 26 years to life, Lopez made a surprise apology to the Torres family, saying everything the prosecutor, Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy, said he did was true.

The violence of the slaying indicated an incredible level of rage.

Torres suffered 74 individual knife wounds around her face, head and torso. There were likely more wounds, which could not be distinguished because they were on top of others. A week before she was killed, Torres had turned down Lopez’s suggestion that they elope.

She disappeared the evening of Feb. 12, 1994, after leaving her job at a Sav-On in Placentia. She had told friends she was headed to meet Sam Lopez at an ice cream shop.

A week later, Torres was found in the trunk of her Toyota Corolla, which was parked outside Placentia-Linda Hospital in Placentia. Bloodstain patterns indicated arterial spurting, meaning her heart was pumping and she still was alive when Lopez, aided by a cousin, stuffed her in the trunk.

The two cousins, along with two other men, were arrested in July 2007 — more than 13 years after the murder. It took another eight years for the convictions.

“The Price of Duty” episode featuring Wyatt was filmed last summer. He praised the crew and said that overall, he liked how the episode turned out.

Wyatt gives a lot of credit to the persistence of Torres’ mother, Mary Bennett, in keeping the case in the minds of law enforcement after it went cold.

Anaheim PD Sgt. Daron Wyatt talks about the new television show, “The Price of Duty,” which recently premiered with an episode detailing a case on which Wyatt served as lead investigator for 18 years. 
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

There was no physical evidence linking Lopez to the crime, but there was DNA evidence linking his cousin, Xavier Lopez, to Torres’ car and clothes, and the two admitted to being together the night of Torres’ disappearance. In a plea agreement, Xavier Lopez was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.

Over the years, Wyatt became very close to the Torres family, which also includes two of Cathy’s sisters, Debbie and Tina, and a brother, Marty. The Torres family still gets together with Wyatt’s family, which in addition to his daughter includes his wife, Misty, and son, Nolan.

Wyatt advised survivors of victims whose cases have gone cold to never give up.

“Find a way to keep it moving forward,” Wyatt advised. “Create a relationship with the (lead detectives) and let others in authority know you aren’t going away, but do it through positive relationships.”

Wyatt is quick to point out he was not the first choice of “The Price of Duty” producers. The show first wanted to profile his former partner, APD Det. Julissa Trapp, as the lead detective on the Franc Cano and Steven Gordon serial murders, but she declined since the case is not completely adjudicated.

So for now, we’ll have to wait for Season 2.