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Man not in custody after being charged with manslaughter in Crookston assault case

Rita Saenz appeals for answers in the death of her husband, John Torres, who died as a result of an assault at a Crookston bar. (Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
John Henry Torres2 / 2

CROOKSTON—Rita Saenz was in the courtroom Tuesday when a man was charged with the death of the father of her four children.

When she left the courtroom, so did the charged man, without handcuffs.

"I'm upset because he's still out," Saenz said. "He's not in jail."

Saenz has been searching for answers the past three months after her fiance, John Henry Torres, 36 was assaulted on Christmas outside a Crookston bar and died on Jan. 1.

But on Tuesday, Brock Dale Strommen, 28, of Crookston was formally charged in Polk County District Court with first-degree manslaughter, fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct.

Strommen pleaded not guilty to all three charges after being summoned to court on a grand jury indictment for the charges on March 24. Saenz was called as a witness at the indictment.

"I told the prosecutor no one will ever understand what I have to go through everyday with my children," she said.

Strommen faces a maximum sentence of 15 1/2 years in prison and $32,000 fine—15 years and $30,000 for manslaughter and 90 days and a $1,000 fine each for fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct.

"It's a good thing, finally. I'm getting a little bit," Saenz said. "My question is still, why? Why did this happen?"

Moving forward

Saenz said she's trying to be strong for her children as they process what happened through counseling.

"I'm having a very hard time with it, and I will for the rest of my life," she said.

Saenz said her 6-year-old daughter draws graphic pictures depicting the attack on Torres.

"The night replays in my head all the time," Saenz said.

On Christmas Day, Saenz, Torres and two of their friends went to Captain Crook's Bar to celebrate the holiday and meet some of Torres' cousins, she said.

Later, Torres went outside with a man the couple did not previously know.

"A few minutes later, (Torres) walked in, bleeding from his ear" and saying he had been jumped, Saenz told the Herald in January.

She took Torres to Altru Hospital, where he underwent surgery on Dec. 26 for a fractured skull and internal bleeding. He died six days later.

Near the end of January, Saenz was joined by friends and family as they held signs outside the Polk County Justice Center, asking for justice.

"I'm just going to keep fighting," Saenz said. "I'm not going to give up. I have to do this for my husband. I have to do this for my kids."

Conditions of release

Strommen was not taken into custody at his Tuesday hearing, but he was ordered to not have contact with witnesses or the victim's family. He also cannot enter bars or liquor stores, and he can't leave Minnesota without written court approval.

He won't appear again in Polk County District Court until 9 a.m. May 10.

Strommen is being represented by Joel Arnason, a Grand Forks attorney. Arnason represented Mark Wayne Horn, 53, who was sentenced in Polk County District Court to 20 years in prison for second-degree murder after his wife's body was found in a shallow grave in 2001.

Strommen was previously convicted of two disorderly conduct.

He was sentenced to 90 days in jail for an August 1, 2008, incident at IC Muggs, a bar in Crookston. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail, a sentence that was stayed for one year, for a June 5, 2012, incident at the Veterans of Foreign Wars building in Crookston.

Saenz said she and Torres did not know Strommen prior to the incident.

Becky Jacobs

Becky Jacobs is the crime and courts reporter for the Herald.

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