Felipe "Fel" Torres, former drummer for The Cold Hard Cash Show, was defiant on Wednesday as he testified for more than three hours, a last-second call by his defense counsel as trial neared its end.
Torres, 44, described the band's success as his life's work, making enough money to live as a full-time professional musician before it all came crashing down in January, when he was charged with misdemeanor assault. Since then, he's also been charged with another count of assault and felony strangulation.
Torres framed the ongoing disputes with his then-girlfriend as a problem stemming from her methamphetamine abuse and mental health issues, and portrayed himself as the concerned boyfriend through the events in the last 10 months. The woman testified Tuesday about her own addiction issues.
He said he only went to his girlfriend's workplace in January because she had not come home the night before; that he only cornered her in their house to verbally calm her during a simmering altercation — and alleging that she'd headbutted him and not the other way around; and that he only apologized for an event his girlfriend described as strangulation because he didn't want to fight any more.
Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst was especially keen on the number of times Torres appeared to assign wrongdoing in the situation to his accuser, specifically due to her methamphetamine use. Torres admitted to some meth use of his own, but said he typically only partook when his band was touring.
Torres also flipped the script on the July 10 headbutting incident — during which the woman testified that Torres cocked his head back and headbutted her in anger after she dumped a slushie on him — to allege he was essentially headbutted as she tried to push away from him. The defense has described the headbutt as a "collision." The woman suffered two black eyes, a swollen nose and protracted bleeding from the encounter. Torres' defense presented a photo Torres took of a 1-inch cut on his forehead from the incident.
"When she came at me, or we collided, she cut my head," Torres said.
"With her nose?" Pabst asked.
"Yes," he responded.
When Pabst confronted Torres on the stand about the text messages, particularly his apology after the woman said "You put me in a choke hold and held me hostage in your car," he was adamant that no strangling had taken place, but that they were both in the wrong for their constant bitterness.
"You're asking me to feel responsible for nothing," Torres snapped at Pabst during the testy exchange in court on Wednesday. "I just want her to get help."
He also spoke about how the charges had affected his own life and his band, a Johnny Cash cover act. After Torres was charged in January, a document, whose authors have remained anonymous, began circulating around social media outlining past allegations against him. As previously reported by the Missoulian, community members called local production companies and beyond, asking companies to pull their venue dates with Cold Hard Cash.
"The media took storm to this and there was a major smear campaign online from a group of people that don't know me or anybody else; they sent letters to our agency, all our venues we played at because of a 'serial abuser' in our band," Torres said Wednesday.
You have free articles remaining.
When front man Merle Travis Peterson announced the band's dissolution in a social media post in February, less than a month after Torres was charged, Peterson said it was because he wanted to spend more time with his son. Torres, however, indicated from the witness stand on Wednesday that the community pressure on venues to reconsider booking the band was insurmountable.
"We had to end it," Torres said. "Because of tour dates, we lost over $6,000 in two days just in cancellations as a result of it."
Torres said once the band had gained national attention from playing "The Late Show" with David Letterman in 2008, the band was grossing about $270,000 a year.
"I went making that kind of money to zero overnight," he said.
Torres claimed a past girlfriend conspired with others to start the anonymous document. Pabst called the woman to testify after the defense rested its case; the woman said she had not started the document but said she knew a number of people who contributed to it.
Pabst also asked her to speak about her own past domestic issues with Torres before they split in 2016. In 2014, while at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the woman said Torres suddenly lashed out at her, seemingly in his sleep.
"I woke up in the middle of the night to him turning on the light, screaming at me," she said. "I had no idea what he was talking about. He crawled on top of me, pinned my arms down with his knees, took the comforter blanket and shoved it down my throat. … I cut the insides of my lips on my teeth when he was shoving the blanket down my throat."
A band mate at the time told the Missoulian about the alleged attack in a February story airing out some of the allegations included in that anonymous document. Ryan Yates, the band's former bassist, told the Missoulian he left the band because Torres had suddenly lashed out at him, too, while the band was touring.
Torres' attorney called just one witness in his defense, a woman living at the house during the events that led to the second and third charges against Torres. Quintonia Kahm said in the single instance she did hear fighting between Torres and his girlfriend, it sounded to her like the woman was the aggressor.
"For the most part it was fine," Kahm testified. "There was one incident where I heard yelling and I had heard Fel tell her to keep her hands off him. I didn't hear anything else after that."
Kahm said that since July, when Torres has been jailed ahead of trial, new roommates have moved into the house and put his things in the garage.
Parties will give their closing arguments at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning before the jury goes into deliberations.