SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Tears flowed freely Thursday morning as the parents of murdered teenager Sierra LaMar took the stand to make victim impact statements during the penalty phase of her convicted killer’s sentencing hearing.
A Santa Clara County jury, which deliberated for less than two days on a first degree murder verdict, is trying to decide if Antolin Garcia-Torres should get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Outside the courtroom, Sierra’s mother Marlene LaMar talked about the surge of emotions that overtook her as she spoke to the judge and jury.
“It was just reliving the whole nightmare,” she told reporters. “My loss and how it has affected everyone — her family, her friends. It was difficult to speak today.”
Marlene became very emotional when a video of Sierra was played for the jurors.
“It was the first time I’ve heard her speak live on the video, so that was really hard,” she said as her voice crackled with emotion. “I’ve been avoiding that because it has been so painful just to look at videos of her.”
While the video and slides were being shown in court, Garcia-Torres looked away and never glanced up at the screen. Marlene LaMar said she didn’t notice his reaction.
“I was so emotionally affected just giving my testimony I didn’t recognize anything other than just looking at the pictures,” she said. “I couldn’t look up at the jurors. I could barely look up at the attorney when he was questioning me.”
Sierra’s father Steve LaMar, who has attended almost every day of the trial, also took the stand Thursday.
Santa Clara County prosecutor David Boyd questioned LaMar about what he remembered about Sierra as a baby, a child and a teenager.
Steve LaMar recalled Sierra’s goofy sense of humor and playful personality and said it was “always hard” watching her friends achieve the milestones she never did, like going to prom, graduating high school and starting college.
“I was just in a zombie state at that time,” LaMar said of the week Sierra went missing, testifying that he missed nights of sleep and still wakes up crying.
The LaMars have still not had a funeral for Sierra, he said, explaining, “It didn’t make sense without her body,” which has never been found.
The penalty phase of the trial began on Tuesday with opening statements. On Wednesday, two of Sierra’s best friends, her 10th grade English teacher and her older sister gave statements.
Channah Foreman and Karissa Pugh, who each met Sierra in high school, testified to her unique ability to make people laugh and share her natural self-confidence with others.
Jamie Simpson, Sierra’s English teacher at Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill, remembered the teen as a class clown who was friendly to everyone.
Simpson said that after Sierra went missing, she kept her corner desk empty for the rest of the school year and that a seat at the 2014 graduation ceremony was left empty in honor of the teen.
Sierra has not been seen or heard from since March 16, 2012 when she disappeared walking to a bus stop on her way to school.
Garcia-Torres was arrested on May 21, 2012, two months after Sierra went missing and after investigators found his DNA on her jeans, which were recovered near where she went missing outside Morgan Hill.
Sierra’s DNA was also found on an interior backseat door handle and on the outside of a pair of work gloves in Garcia-Torres’ 1998 red Volkswagen Jetta.
Defense attorneys have alleged the discovery was due to cross-contamination during the evidence collection process, pointing to sloppy techniques by the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Crime Laboratory.