Tears started rolling down Marlene LaMar's cheeks shortly after she began giving testimony inside Department 40 of the Hall of Justice in San Jose today.
She told jurors she and her daughter Sierra moved to Morgan Hill in 2011, and then detailed their morning routine before school. Jurors were drawn in and even paused in their note taking during this extremely emotional early phase in the trial.
Sierra resisted the move from Fremont, but still enjoyed new friends, her pet cat and her ever-present cell phone.
"Each morning, I told her I loved her, and she replied, I love you mom," Marlene told captivated jurors.
"How can you be untouched by a mother's agony as she recounts the last moments of her daughter's life?" said Marc Klass, who started a foundation after his daughter Polly was abducted and murder in the mid-1990s.
Sierra vanished March 16th, 2012 on her way to a bus stop for school. Antolin Garcia Torres is charged with the girl’s murder. He denies involvement in the teenager’s presumed death, but investigators found DNA evidence in his car linking him to the crime.
Marlene says she was "in a state of panic" when she couldn't contact Sierra by phone or text later that day.
Then the decision to call 911, a portion of which was played for jurors. On the audio recording, played in open court, Marlene told a sheriff’s deputy, "We're worried she was abducted."
"Any parent that has a teenage child when they don't check in…it's scary and you do get terrible thoughts going through your head and they always come home. And when they don't. It's your worst fear ever," said Kelli Wilkins, a volunteer searcher who tried to find Sierra after her disappearance in 2012.
Defense attorney Alfonzo Lopez contends Sierra was distraught over leaving friends in Fremont, and moving to new surroundings in Morgan Hill. He says the teen was troubled, and ran off. Legal Analyst Steven Clark explained the strategy.
"They want to establish that there are things that Sierra's mother didn't know about her daughter," said Clark.
"That there were things going on with her daughter that she would only share with her friends."
But yesterday her friends and this afternoon, her older sister Danielle, all testified Sierra had no money, driver's license, car, or means of support. They told the jury there was nothing that would make this outgoing high-school cheerleader run off without a word.
“Where's she gonna go? There’s been nothing, absolutely nothing. It’s like she was erased from the face of the earth," said Marc Klass.
The court is closed tomorrow due to a scheduling conflict for one of the lawyers, so testimony from prosecution witnesses resumes Thursday.