SANTA CLARA COUNTY (KRON) — A jury has unanimously found Antolin Garcia-Torres guilty of murdering Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar.
The panel will now have to decide whether Garcia-Torres should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole.
The sentencing phase will begin on May 16. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will be allowed to present evidence.
The jury also convicted Garcia-Torres of the attempted kidnappings of three women in Safeway parking lots in 2009.
KRON4’s Rob Fladeboe, who was in the courtroom, says he heard weeping, gasps, and tears as Antolin Garcia-Torres was found guilty of all counts.
More than 100 members of the public attended Tuesday morning’s verdict reading, requiring the courthouse to provide a live stream of the proceedings in a second courtroom.
Garcia-Torres showed no emotion as he heard his guilty verdict.
Sierra’s parents fought back tears as they listened.
“Nothing will take away the pain and sorrow…but we have been praying for this kind of ending. Justice,” Marlene LaMar, Sierra’s mother, said in a press conference after the verdict announcement.
“A guilty verdict helps, but there is no closure,” Steve LaMar, Sierra’s father said as he also thanked god, the prosecution, and the jury for finding Garcia-Torres guilty.
“We’ll still search until we find something,” Steve LaMar said. Sierra’s body still has yet been found.
DISAPPEARANCE & SEARCH
On March 16, 2012, 15-year-old Sierra LaMar disappeared early in the morning on a lonely rural road in Morgan Hill. She was headed to the school bus stop just a few minutes walk from her home.
That evening, her mother got an automated call from the school that her daughter was absent.
The next day, sheriff’s deputies began searching nearby fields. They discovered Sierra’s cellphone in a field a couple of blocks away. Then on March 18, Sierra’s purse was found, a Juicy Couture bag containing pants, a T-shirt, and underclothes, about two miles from her home.
FBI agents then the investigation. Divers searched nearby reservoirs. Missing kids advocate Marc Klaas mobilized hundreds of volunteers to comb through the surrounding farmland. No piece of information was too small.
However, all of their efforts proved fruitless. She was never found.
After three years and 54,000 hours of searching for their daughter, the parents of Sierra LaMar suspended the search efforts on March 14, 2015.
ARREST & EVIDENCE
It has been a long slow search for justice. With no body ever found, investigators had to rely on forensic evidence to link the defendant to Sierra Lamar’s disappearance.
Two months after Sierra’s disappearance, Antolin Garcia-Torres was arrested when LaMar’s DNA was found in the trunk his car and on her clothes, which were recovered in a field near her house outside Morgan Hill.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen said that a rope and gloves were found in the trunk of Garcia-Torres’ 1998 Volkswagen Jetta and DNA analysts say Lamar’s hair was found on the rope. The gloves had DNA from both Lamar and Garcia-Torres.
The district attorney told grand jurors that Garcia-Torres’ DNA was found on Lamar’s pants which were discovered days after her disappearance.
When questioned by police about the substance discovered on the victim’s pants, Garcia-Torres explained he masturbated and ejaculated into a tissue and threw it out the window of his car.
It was odd that Garcia-Torres brought up sperm because the defendant’s DNA that was found on Lamar’s pants was not sperm and police never said it was, according to the district attorney.
Before Sierra’s disappearance, he purchased two items, bleach and a turkey baster, according to the transcripts. Rosen said that one can destroy DNA, and the other can be used as an applicator.
TRIAL & VERDICT
After years of delays, the trial for the murder of LaMar began on Jan. 20, 2017.
Santa Clara County prosecutors alleged that Garcia-Torres, 26, kidnapped and murdered 15-year-old Sierra LaMar in 2012.
Garcia-Torres was also charged with three attempted kidnappings after three women alleged that he tried to kidnap them in a Morgan Hill Safeway parking lot in 2009.
The defense disputed the physical evidence and argued that she was a runaway. They accused the prosecutors of distracting the jury with “shame evidence.”
During closing arguments, Santa Clara County prosecutor David Boyd argued for six hours, rehashing for the jury the main points of the trial, the timeline of what he alleges were Sierra’s final hours, and evidence presented by numerous witnesses.
FULL COVERAGE: Sierra LaMar murder trial
“Sierra LaMar is dead, and this defendant right here kidnapped and killed her,” Boyd began, an echo of the way he started his opening statement in late January.
Boyd repeatedly connected Sierra’s alleged murder to the three attempted kidnappings of women in Safeway parking lots three years before with which Garcia-Torres is also charged, reasoning that the crimes were similar in nature.
But by 2012, Garcia-Torres had learned to target a more vulnerable victim, Boyd said, highlighting Sierra’s age and petite frame of 5 foot 1 and
At 15, Sierra was less likely to fight back than the women Garcia-Torres allegedly attacked in 2009, Boyd said.
Boyd repeatedly told the jury that Garcia-Torres has “no alibi” for the almost six hours between the time his 1998 red Volkswagen Jetta was seen on security footage leaving the Maple Leaf RV Park in Morgan Hill and when he was seen again at 12:47 p.m.
“That gives the defendant a lot of time for which he has no alibi,” Boyd said.
Boyd attacked the idea that Sierra would have run away from home.
Showing the defense Sierra’s final selfie, hair curled and tongue out, Boyd asked, “Is that the sign of a 15-year-old girl who’s ready to abandon everything?”
Defense attorney Al Lopez presented his “top 10 reasons” for the lack of evidence that Sierra is dead.
Lopez asked the jury where the murder weapon or crime scene were, questioning the validity of a murder case with no blood evidence or cause of death, claiming there was “no evidence she was killed, no evidence of when she was killed.”
The defense attorney also noted that Sierra’s clothes showed no evidence of violence, like rips, broken zippers, stun gun burns or bleach stains.
Prosecutors have argued that Sierra’s jeans had dirt stains consistent with being dragged.
Lopez pointed to the fact that Sierra’s body has not been found as the most significant reason his client should be found innocent.
“That’s the heart of this case,” Lopez said, bringing up what prosecutors have dismissed as a baseless runaway theory, but that the defense has tied to Sierra’s alleged unhappiness over her family’s recent move and bicurious feelings.
“She was in a broken home. She wanted to run away,” Lopez said.
The trial wrapped up after almost three months of witness testimony, including discussion of the physical evidence key to the no body case.
Now that he is convicted, the jury could impose the death penalty on Garcia-Torres, who has two children and has been in custody since May 21, 2012.
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