FARGO -- A man accused of ordering the murder of 24-year-old Austin Forsman at the Flying J truck stop in Grand Forks in March 2016 and leading a methamphetamine trafficking ring in the region has been found guilty in federal court.
Modesto Alfredo Torrez, 35, was convicted of three of the four counts against him: murder in the furtherance of a drug conspiracy, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and obstruction of justice.
He was also found guilty of the aiding and abetting portion on the count of death caused by use of a firearm during a crime of violence.
Jurors deliberated Thursday after closing arguments in the case wrapped late Wednesday afternoon. The U.S. Attorney’s Office brought 17 witnesses to testify in the trial, including the woman who pulled the trigger, Krystal Lynn Feist, and three others in the superseding indictment charging 13 with activities related to the murder and drug trafficking.
All 13 have either pleaded guilty or been convicted. Torrez was the only one to go to trial.
He will be sentenced on Dec. 1.
“We are pleased with the verdict in this case and look forward to sentencing in this matter,” U.S. Attorney Chris Myers said.
Myers thanked and credited the Grand Forks Police Department and Grand Forks Narcotics Task Force for their work on the case.
Testimony throughout the trial revealed Forsman’s murder was largely caused by miscommunication over the status of Aaron Lee Morado, Torrez’s cousin who testified to selling meth supplied by Torrez. Morado said on the stand that he and Forsman were good friends, and that he’d been using meth heavily in the days leading up to the March 11, 2016, murder.
Morado said on March 10, Forsman had overpaid him for a small amount of meth, so that Morado could pay back Torrez and get more of the drug. Morado testified to not being able to get more meth from his cousin and avoiding Forsman’s calls. When Forsman ran into him late on March 10, he asked Morado to stay with him until Morado could pay him back in cash or meth.
Morado testified to texting Torrez that he was “stuck” with Forsman until he could get more meth, and said his cousin misinterpreted the text to mean he was being physically restrained against his will.
At about that time, Torrez texted Feist and asked her if she could get a gun, according to testimony.
"He told me that Aaron (Morado) was in trouble, that Aaron was being held against his will at gunpoint and shackled," Feist testified.
Feist got a 20-gauge shotgun and went to the Flying J to meet Morado and Forsman, based on instructions from Torrez. When they arrived, Morado got in their car while on the phone with Torrez, and Feist screamed “Yes or no!” into the phone, according to testimony. She heard a “yes,” stepped out and shot Forsman, she said.
Testimony at the trial revealed Torrez directed Ryan Scott Franklin to pick up a total of 11 pounds of meth on two trips from the Albertville, Minn., area outside of Minneapolis.
North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Steve Gilpin testified the men were getting the meth for about $10,500 per pound. He said meth typically sells on the street in Grand Forks for between $225 and $350 an eightball, or 3.5 grams, meaning the group would make more than $10,000 in profit per pound.
Torrez was convicted of obstruction of justice in the case for passing a note to Morado in the Cass County Jail instructing Morado to make an affidavit saying he never received drugs for or from Torrez.