Sierra LaMar Murder Trial Hinges on Substantial DNA Evidence

Thirty-three DNA slides. A roll of duct tape. Textbooks outside a shed. Clothes mashed up in a bag found nearby with dirt, floor mat fibers, urine and “little glass beads,” the kind used to paint reflective safety markings on roadways. Then there’s the rope, which had some of her hair attached.

Newly released Grand Jury transcripts show that investigators have gathered mounds of physical evidence linking missing Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar and Antolin Garcia Torres—her suspected kidnapper and killer—even though nothing suggests the two knew each other before her disappearance in 2012.

At the end of Friday, Santa Clara County Superior Court unsealed transcripts from a secret Grand Jury hearing that took place throughout January and February and ultimately led to the indictment of Garcia Torres, 23, on charges of kidnapping and murdering Sierra, who was 15 when she disappeared March 16, 2012. Her body has never been found. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen decided in May to seek the death penalty for Garcia Torres, a first in the DA’s three and a half years in office.

The 19-member grand jury indicted Garcia Torres on Feb. 11, after hearing testimony from 50 witnesses and considering more than 40 evidence exhibits. The 1,900-page transcript, which was initially released only to media outlets that paid a fee of more than $1,000, provides new details about the DNA and other evidence that the sheriff and investigators have previously alluded to in statements about the case. The transcript also sheds more light on how investigators think Garcia Torres subdued Sierra and intended to erase physical evidence linking the two.

A length of rope containing at least one hair that belonged to Sierra is the “most significant find” in the trunk of Garcia Torres’ red 1998 Volkswagen Jetta, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd told the Grand Jury. That discovery is one of many pieces of evidence that places the victim and suspect together inside Garcia Torres’ vehicle.

“I’m not going to talk to you about every single bit of DNA testing, fiber testing, fingerprint testing,” Boyd said. “We would be here until summer.”

Fibers from the floor mats of Garcia Torres’ vehicle were also detected on Sierra’s clothing, which was found in her Juicy brand bag that investigators uncovered in an old shed on Scheller Avenue just north of Sierra’s home. Garcia Torres’ DNA was found on Sierra’s clothing, and Sierra’s DNA was found in multiple places inside the Volkswagen, according to the transcript.

Sierra LaMar went missing on her way to school in Morgan Hill.

Sierra LaMar went missing on her way to school in Morgan Hill.

Sierra vanished while walking to her school bus stop near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues, according to investigators. She took a photo of herself at her mother’s house at about 7 am—just before leaving home that day. Investigators think this was the last photo ever taken of Sierra, and her friends and mother testified before the grand jury that she looked happy, her head tilted to one side and tongue sticking out.

Her remains have not been recovered, but investigators believe Sierra is dead based on the absence of any evidence that she wanted to leave her parents and friends, as well as her lack of independent financial means.

The back of her pants and the Sharks sweatshirt, found in her Juicy bag, were covered with dirt in a pattern that suggests someone dragged her by her feet with her back on the ground, Boyd told the grand jury.

“Her body has never been found except for minute portions of it in the form of hairs and skin cells with DNA in the defendant’s car,” he said.

Sierra’s mother and friends testified they had never heard of or seen Garcia Torres before his arrest May 22, 2012, and the missing teen had never mentioned him or anyone matching his description or vehicle. When sheriff’s deputies interviewed Garcia Torres in early April 2012—shortly after the investigation pointed in his direction—the suspect said he had never seen or heard of the teen before she disappeared.

Clint Van Zandt, a retired FBI investigator and behavior profiler, said the apparent lack of a relationship between the victim and suspect, combined with the DNA evidence, bolsters the DA’s case against Garcia Torres.

“That puts him in a position where he (has to explain) why he had contact and, in this case, potentially sexual contact with the victim,” Van Zandt told San Jose Inside. “That DNA evidence is the gold standard.”

The piece of rope with Sierra’s hair on it, and Garcia Torres’ semen found throughout the car, suggest that she was “tied up in the trunk of his car and he had some inappropriate sexual contact” with the teen, Van Zandt said.

Washington High School students held a  vigil for former classmate Sierra LaMar shortly after her disappearance in March 2012.

Washington High School students held a vigil for former classmate Sierra LaMar shortly after her disappearance in March 2012.

Another key to the case is whether or not investigators can place Garcia Torres geographically close to Sierra when she disappeared, he added. The grand jury transcript notes that surveillance video footage from Garcia Torres’ home on Monterey Road on March 16, 2012, shows that he left the home about 7am. His home was approximately eight miles from Sierra’s school bus stop.

Boyd noted during the hearing that Garcia Torres unwittingly gave up his possible “sexual motive” in interviews with investigators before his arrest. When deputies vaguely mentioned the possibility of DNA evidence and asked him about the subject, Garcia Torres said he ejaculated into a tissue, and threw this item out his car window while he was driving. He added he might have driven by the area where Sierra’s belongings—including her pants—were found, and the clothing might have had contact with the tissue.

Sierra’s family and volunteers who continue to search for the teen, who was a sophomore at Sobrato High School when she disappeared, said Monday they hope the new information will lead to renewed interest in the community to find more evidence for investigators and Sierra’s parents.

“We continue to urge people to volunteer to help continue to find clues,” said Sierra’s cousin, Keith LaMar. He said the family did not know about the rope, Sierra’s hair or most of the other evidence from the grand jury transcript.

“On the one hand, it’s like not knowing is the worst part,” he added. “Now that we have some clue as to what happened, it makes us feel better, and it answers some questions we had.”

Before Garcia Torres pleaded not guilty to the charges Feb. 22, his attorneys filed a successful motion to keep the grand jury transcript secret. However, the San Jose Mercury News earlier this month argued for the court to unseal the document to the public. That led to an unusual decision to unseal the documents at 5pm Friday, July 11, but only for media outlets willing to pay a court reporter fee of $1,036.80. Three local television stations and the Merc paid the fee rather than wait until the courthouse opened Monday morning to review the transcript in 30-minute increments.

After receiving complaints about a public document being made available only after receiving a four-figure payment, the court said it will review how it releases such information in the future.

“In the interest of fairness for all media outlets it would be preferable to make the releasing of documents available when they’re also in the public file,” court spokesman Joe Macaluso said.

The grand jury transcript also includes testimony related to three attempted carjacking attempts in Morgan Hill in 2009, which police linked to Garcia Torres after his arrest on the charges related to Sierra. Evidence in that case includes a fingerprint from Garcia Torres found on a battery inside a stun gun he used to attempt to subdue one of the female victims. The suspect dropped the stun gun at the scene, inside the woman’s vehicle, before he fled.

Roger Nelson, a volunteer at the Sierra Search Center at 17960 Monterey Road, said the regular searchers are determined to channel their anger into more focused, positive efforts.

“We have a pretty amazing group of people that turned that emotion of being upset into a motivation to bring Sierra home and to keep searching,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly described the source of DNA found on Sierra LaMar's clothing. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

17 Comments

  1. “The back of her pants and the Sharks sweatshirt, found in her Juicy bag, were covered with dirt in a pattern that suggests someone dragged her by her feet with her back on the ground, Boyd told the grand jury.”

    …yet 6 or more days after finding that bag the Sheriff’s PIO said there was no evidence of foul play and therefore the Sheriff wasn’t going to treat Sierra as anything more than a missing person according to the interview the PIO did with ABC News at the time.

    Mothers watch your children, we just gave this woman 4 more years in office.

    • A possible explanation is the police were secretly following Garcia Torres to see if he would lead them to Sierra. By playing it down, he would more likely keep his guard down. I believe the authorities have all acted very professionally and with extreme caution to build a solid case, which they have succeeded to do.

      • No, you don’t understand. There was no Garcia Torres at that point. Trust me, it simply did not happen in the manner you’re speculating. The girl was reported missing and the SO administration chose to blow it off and not put the resources towards finding Sierra. When they found her clothes there were no suspects. They were to busy trying to call her a runaway — she was supposedly up in Oakland with friends, who knows how her phone and clothes ended up dumped like that, we don’t need to expend the effort.

        The deputies were amazingly professional, you’re right about that, and thanks to them and their demand for a more professional response, one that did finally occur. The management of the effort by the administration was horrific on a professional level — lacking coordination and direction. Deputies were sent to sit on corners in their cars for full shifts and do nothing so the public could “see they were there”. Other deputies were redeployed to the same houses over and over again to question people because no one was tracking where anyone had been the day before — no, it wasn’t requestioning potential witnesses, it was sending out new deputies to do the same thing 3, 4, and even 5 times.

        And this isn’t the only case the sheriff and her poor leadership team have risked or ruined — De Anza where she didn’t want to spend the money and left a rape victim out in the cold when the evidence necessary to convict couldn’t be collected. The suicide of a young Saratoga girl that was molested and bullied – she lost evidence by allowing her captain to delay the investigation, then only issue citations to the suspects. Only outrage by her very professional deputies finally incited a real investigation, but it was too late, evidence had been destroyed and the suspects in this case only served 30 days during weekends, and one served 45 days. Another young girl was murdered, Adelita Rojas-Lomeli, but they’ve buried that case so deep it doesn’t even show up on cold case reports. Why? Because one of the people who is now an Assistant Sheriff, when he was a deputy, just about 10 or so years ago (yes, you can go from the very bottom rank to 3rd from the top in a mere 10 years!) threw away the evidence and deputies spent 3 days in the dump trying to find the evidence. They didn’t, so Adelita is forgotten. Oh, that now Assistant Sheriff who threw away evidence? He was a captain when he was the one to decide to delay the investigation into the aforementioned sexual assault and bullying case and then deal with it by sending an SRO to issue citations rather than a detective to investigate an assault.

        Yes, we’re lucky there is a case against Garcia Torres. And you can thank deputies who know how to do their jobs despite a Sheriff and her administration that probably can’t tell the difference between their elbows and a hole in the ground. If the deputies weren’t willing to push the administrative envelope she tries to enforce, who knows what would have ultimately happened.

      • I haven’t heard anything regarding this case. When is the trial? What is the latest?

  2. REALLY THATS WHY I DNT VOTE4 HER SHE AINT THAT GOOD OF A SERVICE TO DA PUBLIC…?

  3. make a deal with him. tell us what you did with the body and you can live your life out in prison and if not then the death penalty.

  4. The death penalty is dead in California. Rosen chose the wrong case to be hist first death penalty case. It will delay the start of trial for years. Prisoners are safer on Death Row than in General Population, because they are isolated. Cut a deal, give him life withour parole, put him in general pop, and someone will rid the earth of him in fairly short order.

  5. I always here this consolation in these types of horrific cases, that the perpetrator will suffer his own demise in General Population, then nothing more. I never hear that anyone given Life in General Population was killed in prison. I know it’s not unheard of, but just not as common as many portray it to be. Therefore, it’s not much of a consolation at all to hope a perpetrator gets Life in General Population.

    That being said, I highly doubt Garcia-Torres’ attorneys will let him plea down, after they advised him to refrain from entering a plea and being arraigned so long causing an incorrigible delay at the beginning of this case.

    I wish there was a way to get him to talk. I’d think his family, such as his sisters who initially defended him, would be the best options to get him to say where Sierra is.

  6. I can’t say what should happen to this man but to have a mind to do what he has done isn’t right. I don’t care where the state puts him. But just keep him off the public streets so our children can be safe. I hope all parents understand that we need to raise our children to care and love another. Yes there are just some crazy people but then again I feel a lot of cases of individuals who act in this way starts at home. Even if you didn’t come from a loving home you being a parent now is a chance to make a change and make your home a loving home that alone will make the biggest impact of how our children deal with life situations

  7. This scumbag and other scum such as he are the reason that rather than the school bus I drove my Grand daughter to and from school each day from the time she was in preschool through graduation of High School. How glad I am now that I did that. Although she is somewhat older than Sierra she would have waited at the same bus stop each morning.
    As for Torres, he probably had already devised and prepared the spot where he thought that she would never be found and recovered. I pray that he is mistaken about that. As for his sentence, a person such as he should not be given the chance of living the good life in a cushy prison.

  8. I have been following this case from the beginning and every now and then I search for her name in hopes that she has been found. What a horrible thing to do to such a young soul. RIP Sierra. As for Torres, I hope you rot in hell.

  9. I think he took her to a park, Chietactac/ Adams County Park, Then weighted her down in the deep water of Uvas Creek, at the park boundary. I’m hoping a dive team will do a search, at the very least it should be checked.
    Sam Peppiatt

  10. This Man thinks that if the body isn’t found that he cannot be convicted. He will of course have some stupid reason why his semen was on her clothing, and BELEIVE me his story will change about the tissue issue. There is no doubt in my mind that this man planned, kidnapped , raped, and killed this poor girl. They will try the plea of you tell me were body is and we will take death off table. But he’s to far in now and his lawyers will not let him take this plea. He has either buried or weighed down her body. Either way death is to easy for this man. That being said, I hope his lungs explode when he gets the juice he so rightly deserves. My prayers go out to this family, for every day and night I will pray for her family and for her body to be brought home, so she can be laid to rest. Sincerely Chris

  11. I hope that the guy Garcia-Torres gets what he deserves for hurting Sierra, and i hope sierra is found she is deeply missed:'(