SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Volunteers who have spent countless hours searching, without success, for Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar filled a San Jose courtroom Friday to show support for her family as the man accused of murdering her suspect made his first court appearance since prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty.
The searchers believe the threat of capital punishment may spur Antolin Garcia-Torres to reveal what became of Sierra’s body in order to avoid the death penalty.
“We are hoping that maybe he uses that as a bargaining chip and tells us where she is,” said Debbie Nunez, one of many who has devoted Saturdays over the past two years to find LaMar, or her remains.
Garcia-Torres appeared in court wearing a suit, his ankles shackled. He smiled and laughed with his attorney during a brief court appearance where media organizations petitioned to unseal transcripts of the grand jury indictment against him.
The judge continued that action until June 27.
The case continues to grind slowly through the courts, stalled initially for more than a year by Garcia-Torres’ refusal to enter a plea after the initial charges were filed. Prosecutors sought the grand jury indictment to end that impasse.
Meanwhile Nunez and others have gathered each Saturday, their original purpose of generating leads in Sierra’s whereabouts changed by the bonds they developed with the LaMar family.
“We’ll continue to come out to support the Lamar family because we feel it’s important to see us there every Saturday. I’d hate to think of them arriving on a Saturday and have no searchers come to support them,” Nunez said.
Nicole Larson, one of the original searchers, estimates she’s participated in about 100 searches.
“I moved out from the Midwest a couple months before Sierra went missing,” she said, “and I had to be involved. so I was there that first weekend.”
The searchers have come to see themselves as a family, Larson said, a group that would support the LaMar family through the entire ordeal of losing their daughter.
“We love each other very much, and it’s amazing how strong of a connection you can develop with people that you might have never crossed paths in normal life.”
“It’s just a ritual now,” she said. “Not being there on a Saturday would be difficult.”