Ruling on location of Sierra LaMar’s murder trial expected by week’s end

SAN JOSE (BCN)—A judge is expected to rule by the end of the week on where a trial will be held for a man charged with the kidnapping and murder of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar four years ago.

Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher heard oral arguments on a change of venue motion filed by defense attorneys for the trial of 25-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres, who was also present during this morning’s hearing at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Sierra, whose body hasn’t been found, was last seen on the morning of March 16, 2012 leaving her home in unincorporated Morgan Hill but never caught her bus to go to school.

Zecher is expected to issue a written decision by the end of this week on whether the trial will be held in or out of Santa Clara County.

The attorney’s arguments were based on testimony heard for three consecutive days last week from Edward Bronson, a professor emeritus at California State University, Chico, who said the trial should be held in another jurisdiction.

He was brought in as a defense witness to discuss his research on a survey of 300 county residents about the case and more than 100 news articles in the past four years since Sierra’s disappearance.

Brian Matthews of the Santa Clara County Alternate Defender Office argued today that the survey showed jurors could be prejudiced by local news coverage of the case, which has become a reference point for other cases.

Since her disappearance, Sierra has become a “universal daughter” exclusively in Santa Clara County and has led a large to county act like a small one, Matthews said.

“This case has hit a nerve with the community,” Matthews said.

The level of prominence in the county is very significant compared to other counties and changing the hearing venue would give Garcia-Torres a chance at a fair trial, Matthews said.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Dana Veazey argued that no matter where the trial is heard, Sierra will be considered a “universal daughter” and was a child, which will affect jurors wherever the trial is heard.

Bronson’s survey wasn’t conducted in neighboring counties to test the salience levels compared to Santa Clara County, Veazey said.

There was no scientific evidence that supported the argument that Santa Clara County acted as a small county in response to Sierra’s case, according to Veazey.

The survey showed more than 50 percent of people didn’t know about the case or recognized it and were able to identify another fact, Veazey said.

Bronson conducted a quantitative analysis of the news articles that included articles on the front page of newspapers that mentioned the case, but the overall subject was largely on a different matter.

Certain words that the professor considered “highly prejudiced” based on his research of news coverage in the case were the same ones used in the survey, which showed the articles weren’t biased but merely described the facts, according to Veazey.

The judge is scheduled to continue a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence in the case on Friday afternoon at the Hall of Justice.

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