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Sierra LaMar Case Delayed Again, Prosecutors Review New Evidence

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Antolin Garcia-Torres during a previous court appearance. (CBS)

Antolin Garcia-Torres during a previous court appearance. (CBS)

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SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The Sierra LaMar murder and kidnap case was delayed in a San Jose courtroom to next month as prosecutors sift through evidence still coming in from law enforcement agencies, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

Santa Clara County Judge Sharon Chatman set a new hearing for Aug. 22 to review the status of evidence sent by the district attorney’s office to lawyers for murder defendant Antolin Garcia Torres.

Garcia Torres, 21, was charged back on May 31, 2012, with murder and kidnapping with special circumstances after the 15-year-old Sierra vanished outside her home near Morgan Hill on March 16, 2012.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Walsh told Chatman that evidence and information gathered by investigators is being delivered to Garcia Torres’ defense attorneys, Traci Owens and Alfonso Lopez.

“We continue to turn over discovery,” Walsh said. “We have not yet completed the process.”

Garcia Torres, dressed in a light brown suit and occasionally peering at the courtroom audience, listened as his attorneys, who seemed to anticipate the postponement, agreed on the hearing date.

Outside of court, Walsh said the prosecution is still receiving information about the case from the district attorney’s crime laboratory, the FBI and the sheriff’s office.

Garcia Torres has yet to enter a plea in the murder-kidnap case more than a year after being charged.

Prosecutors have combined the charges with other allegations, filed in November, that Garcia Torres assaulted three women on March 19 and March 26, 2012, in Safeway parking lots in Morgan Hill, Walsh said.

“It’s a complicated case and there is just a voluminous amount of discovery that is generated in a case of this nature,” Walsh said.

The sheriff’s office is also following up on leads and searches for clues about the missing teen, he said.

“The case is top priority with our office,” Walsh said.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Garcia Torres on May 21 of last year after detectives reported finding DNA believed to be Sierra’s inside his red Volkswagen Jetta.

Volunteers have organized searches on Saturday for Sierra in the Morgan Hill area, some repelling down the sides of mountains and at least one donning diving gear to look in local reservoirs and creeks, lead volunteer Doug Tollis said.

Tollis was among 10 supporters of Sierra who attended today’s hearing, some expressing frustration with the months of delays in the case related to pretrial discovery issues.

So far, volunteers have participated in about 360 searches for Sierra, with some people traveling from Malibu and Hollywood in Southern California to join them, Tollis said.

The searches at times yield potential clues, such as bones and clothing that volunteers bag and take to the sheriff’s office, but “they don’t tell us anything” about them, Tollis said.

Search crews, usually from 9 to 16 people, have stumbled onto marijuana grow operations in remote areas and people have pointed and even fired guns at them, Tollis said.

The sheriff’s office recovered Sierra’s San Jose Sharks jersey, designer purse, headphones and cellphone soon after she went missing, but volunteers are the only ones still looking, Tollis said.

“If it wasn’t for us, there wouldn’t be a search,” Tollis said.

He said he expected the case to be delayed for about two more months as sheriff’s deputies continue to pursue leads and turn new information over to prosecutors, Tollis said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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