UPDATE II: In Department 40 of the Hall of Justice Tuesday, a jury found Antolin Garcia Torres guilty of murdering Sierra LaMar. He was also found guilty of three attempted kidnappings that occurred in Safeway parking lots in 2009. The courtroom gallery erupted into loud applause at the reading of the guilty verdicts. On the way out of court, members of Sierra’s family hugged and shook the hand of prosecutor David Boyd. The jury will begin the penalty phase of the capital murder case Wednesday, May 16. Garcia-Torres could face the death penalty.
UPDATE: Jurors have reached a verdict, which will be read in court 9am Tuesday. San Jose Inside will continue to update throughout the day.
Without a body or murder weapon, the prosecutor in the Sierra LaMar murder trial used his closing rebuttal last week to urge the jury to “reject the unreasonable, accept the reasonable” explanations for her disappearance, fingerprints, DNA traces and other evidence that connects Antolin Garcia Torres to the crimes he stands accused.
“Sometimes, to support a weak argument, (people) use gimmickry to distract you from the facts,” said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd.
Boyd was likely referring to statements made the previous day by defense attorney Al Lopez in the Hall of Justice courtroom. Lopez displayed a “bucket of shame” to the jury during his closing argument to illustrate the reasons Garcia Torres is not guilty.
Garcia Torres, 25, is on trial for the murder of Sierra LaMar, who disappeared from her Morgan Hill home off Dougherty Avenue March 16, 2012, at the age of 15. Garcia Torres is also accused of three attempted kidnapping incidents in the parking lots of two Safeway stores in Morgan Hill in 2009.
He has been on trial for these crimes—totaling four felony counts—for the last 13 weeks. The murder charge is a capital offense, as he faces a possible penalty of death if found guilty.
The prosecutor and defense attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments Thursday, May 4. Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher sent the jury of six men and six women into the deliberation room shortly after these arguments were over.
Sierra’s father, Steve LaMar, gave a brief statement to reporters Thursday outside the courthouse.
“It’s been a long trial, but it’s just a blink of an eye compared to how much time we haven’t had Sierra with us,” Steve LaMar said. “Now the justice for Sierra is in the hands of the jury.”
He extended his thanks to Boyd and the DA’s office, as well as sheriff’s deputies and numerous volunteers who helped search for Sierra’s body, which has not been found.
“Now we wait and we pray, and we hope for justice for Sierra,” he added.
Boyd told the jury on May 4 that, according to the law, they have to “consider the totality of the facts” when deciding on a verdict. He argued that Lopez was asking them to consider each fact in isolation, which could persuade the jurors to accept the “innocent” explanations for certain evidence.
For example, defense attorneys argued the reason Garcia Torres’ thumbprint was on a 9-volt battery found in a stun gun used in one of the Safeway attacks was because, as an employee at the store, he had repackaged the item and placed it back on the shelf for sale when its packaging was damaged.
Boyd noted, however, that Garcia Torres’ Safeway colleagues testified during the trial that they had never seen the defendant perform such a task while employed at the store.
“Is that innocent explanation reasonable?” Boyd asked rhetorically.
Lopez also argued that Sierra ran away from home, and she might not even be dead. He cited previous arguments with her mother, her recent move to Morgan Hill—away from her longtime friends in Fremont—and even a handwritten note found in her school notebook that allegedly indicates she wanted to run away.
Boyd, however, said these circumstances do not consider “the whole of the facts,” which also include Sierra’s vast social media footprint, her dependence on her parents for basic needs and her love for her father and her cat, Chester.
The prosecutor added that the three kidnapping attempts in 2009, in which a man attacked three women as they were walking out to their cars after shopping at Safeway, would have been Garcia Torres’ practice for the murder of Sierra. He continued to attack women until he was able to kill one, Boyd argued.
“This was planned. This was premeditated. This was cold and calculated,” Boyd said. “It takes time to find a girl that fits the bill.”
The prosecutor also responded to Lopez’ claims that there should have been more of Sierra’s DNA in Garcia Torres’ Volkswagen Jetta if he had kidnapped and struggled with her. Boyd argued that the vehicle was not thoroughly searched until Garcia Torres was arrested about three weeks after Sierra’s disappearance. An expert testified during the trial that DNA deteriorates when exposed to sunlight, humidity or moisture, and that could be why there wasn’t more of Sierra’s genetic material in the car.
Sierra disappeared as she was walking to her school bus stop at the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues in north Morgan Hill. She was a sophomore at Sobrato High School.
In his rebuttal, Boyd concluded: “He silenced her so she could not say what happened to her. He silenced her body so it could not say what happened. Please find the defendant guilty.”
Judge Zecher advised the jury that they can set their own deliberation schedule, which could include Fridays even though court is typically not in session that day.
Search Volunteers Respond
After Sierra disappeared, hundreds of people throughout the Bay Area responded to a call for volunteers to help search for her remains in and around Morgan Hill. As the years passed, those numbers dwindled to a handful of regular volunteers, but they remain committed to supporting Sierra’s family.
“I’m glad it’s finally come to this point,” said David Arocha, a Sunnyvale resident who has attended the trial almost every day since it started Jan. 31. “Mr. Boyd is doing a wonderful job with this. I’m glad he’s the prosecutor.”
Roger Nelson, a coordinator for search volunteers, said outside the courtroom that Boyd delivered a “strong performance” during closing arguments and the rebuttal.
“He gave just enough detail where he was able to accomplish his goals and not lose the jury,” Nelson said.
This story first appeared in the Morgan Hill Times.