SAN JOSE (BCN) — A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has denied a motion from a 25-year-old man to hold separate trials on charges of kidnapping and murdering 15-year-old Sierra LaMar in 2012 from three attempted kidnappings in Morgan Hill years earlier.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher denied a motion brought by Antolin Garcia-Torres to hold separate trials on charges surrounding Sierra’s disappearance from the attempted kidnappings outside Morgan Hill Safeway grocery stores in March 2009.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Garcia-Torres, whose trial is expected to start later this year.
“Although there may be some potential prejudice to the charges remaining joined, the defendant has not made a clear showing of prejudice to support the granting of the Motion of Severance,” Zecher wrote in a written order issued Tuesday.
Defense attorneys for Garcia-Torres argued in their motion that the Safeway parking lot incidents didn’t show a link with Sierra’s disappearance or indicate if the same person carried out the crime.
One of the women drove away as the suspect tried to open her car door and the other two victims were assaulted as they were either entering or exiting their vehicles, according to the defense attorneys.
Garcia-Torres was identified as a suspect through a latent fingerprint on a stun gun battery left behind in one of the attempted kidnappings, but the three victims didn’t identify him as a suspect, according to the defense attorneys.
In response to the defense’s motion, prosecutors argued that the alleged crimes showed a common scheme and shared themes of intending to kidnap, stalking and assault.
The jury should determine if there’s enough evidence to show Garcia-Torres’ role in the other crimes, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said they anticipate that the Safeway victims’ testimony at trial will make the attempted kidnapping charges equal to the ones in Sierra’s case.
On March 16, 2012, Sierra was last seen at her home in unincorporated Morgan Hill and didn’t make the bus stop for school. The girl’s clothing and cellphone were found days after she went missing.
Garcia-Torres was arrested about two months after Sierra disappeared after her DNA was found in his red Volkswagen Jetta, prosecutors said.
Many organized searches have taken place in the four years after she was last seen, but her body hasn’t been found.