Jurors in the Sierra LaMar murder trial have reached a verdict, Santa Clara County Superior Court officials announced this afternoon.
The verdict will be read in court at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at San Jose's Santa Clara Hall of Justice.
Antolin Garcia-Torres, 26, pleaded not guilty to the murder of 15-year-old Sierra, who has not been seen or heard from since March 16, 2012, and to the attempted kidnappings of three women in Safeway parking lots in
“When you look at the number of charges against Garcia-Torres and the mountain of information the jury had to go through I am a little surprised they got a verdict in all of these counts so quickly,” said Legal Analyst Steven Clark who has been closely following the case.
Prosecutors have had to prove Garcia Torres killed Sierra without a body, a murder weapon or an autopsy. Prosecutors said Sierra’s DNA including a strand of her hair on a rope was in Garcia-Torres’s car and his DNA was on her clothing found abandoned in a field.
“The defense was suggesting Sierra LaMar was still alive and if the jury didn't get past that issue then that could be quickly decided if she's still alive there's no way this could be a murder,” said Clark.
If Garcia-Torres is found guilty, the jurors will weigh the aggravating and mitigating factors and select between death and life without the possibility of parole.
Both sides would be allowed to present evidence during this phase of the trial.
Garcia-Torres was arrested on May 21, 2012, two months after Sierra went missing and after investigators found his DNA on her jeans, which were recovered near where she went missing outside Morgan Hill.
Sierra's DNA was also found on an interior backseat door handle and on the outside of a pair of work gloves in Garcia-Torres' 1998 red Volkswagen Jetta.
Defense attorneys for Garcia-Torres have alleged cross-contamination during the evidence collection process, pointing to sloppy techniques by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Crime Laboratory.
Garcia-Torres' thumbprint was found on a 9-volt Duracell battery found in a stun gun that police found in the back of the car of one of the women who were nearly kidnapped and carjacked in 2009.
The defense has claimed that in Garcia-Torres' job as a courtesy clerk at Safeway, he had legitimate reason to have handled a battery if the pack had been opened before the store resold it.
Security footage shows Garcia-Torres' Jetta leaving his home at the Maple Leaf RV Park at 7 a.m., about 15 minutes before Sierra would have left her house to catch the bus to school.
Garcia-Torres has said that he might have turned onto Palm Avenue, where Sierra would have been walking to the bus stop 7 miles from his RV park, on his way to go fishing that morning.
But in his closing argument, defense attorney Al Lopez played an animation that he said proved that, based on the evidence, Garcia-Torres would have passed through the Palm Avenue area three minutes before Sierra
would have left her house.
“I’m surprised, I’m not overly nervous necessarily,” said Marc Klaas of the KlaasKids Foundation. “I think the prosecution presented a very effective case.”
Klaas said it took a jury four days for a conviction in his daughter's murder. He’s been in touch with Sierra’s parents throughout the trial.
“I know they are hanging in as strong as they possibly can but of course they are nervous,” said Klaas. “They are anxious and they are awaiting some finality here.”
Debbie Boyd has lived in the same shoes as the LaMar family. Her daughter was kidnapped and murdered near Sacramento in 2005. Her daughter's killer was convicted without a body. She’s among the hundreds of people who assisted in the search for Sierra seeking closure.
“I will definitely be praying this evening as will many of our friends to bring peace to the LaMars and the jury,” said Boyd. “That they arrived at the right verdict and justice is served for Sierra.”
There is an overflow courtroom to accommodate what's expected to be a large crowd for Tuesday's verdict. If convicted of first-degree murder, it will then go into the sentencing phase-where Garcia-Torres faces the possibility of the death penalty.
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