SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — A Santa Clara County Superior Court jury has imposed a sentence of life in prison without parole to Antolin Garcia-Torres, convicted last month of the first-degree murder of missing teen Sierra LaMar in 2012 and the attempted kidnappings of three women in 2009.
The verdict, which was read in court shortly after 1:30 p.m. Monday at San Jose’s Hall of Justice, came after about eight cumulative hours of penalty phase deliberation that began Wednesday afternoon.
Steve LaMar, Sierra’s father, said he was disappointed the jury did not return a death sentence.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed in the verdict (sentence),” he told reporters. “He’ll be able to live. Sierra won’t. He’ll be able to breath. Sierra doesn’t. He’ll be able to eat everyday. See his family. We don’t have that. His family doesn’t grieve. We’ll grieve for the rest of our lives. So I’m disappointed.”
The penalty phase of the trial began May 16, a week after Garcia-Torres was found guilty of the missing teen’s murder on March 16, 2012. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty.
Sierra’s body has not been found since she missed her school bus to Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill that morning.
Garcia-Torres was arrested two months after the girl’s disappearance when his DNA was found on her clothing, which was recovered in a field near her bus stop.
Prosecutor David Boyd emphasized justice in his emotional plea for jurors to exercise the maximum penalty on Garcia-Torres, whose mother, a Mexican immigrant who speaks no English, walked out of the courtroom toward the end of Boyd’s argument.
“What penalty does justice require? What penalty does the evidence in this case compel? What penalty is the only moral and just punishment for the defendant’s crimes?” Boyd asked.
In urging jurors to unanimously vote for the death penalty, Boyd reminded them not to allow Sierra, whose body has never been found, to become an abstraction or to mis-attribute compassion toward Garcia-Torres.
“The easy path would be to select life without the possibility of parole,” Boyd said. “It takes courage to look at this defendant, a man, flesh and blood, and determine what is the just punishment for what he has done.”
The fact that Sierra’s body has never been found should not be cause for lingering doubt of the defendant’s guilt, Boyd said. He argued that the fact that Garcia-Torres murdered the girl and hid her body showed a lack of remorse that should be punished.
“He could have let her go. He could have relied on anonymity. He made that choice, the next choice. He could have relied on threats to keep her quiet,” Boyd said. “At each and every stage where the defendant could have stopped, he chose not to.”
Last week, the jury heard testimony from Garcia-Torres’ family members about the poverty, incest and abuse present in their ramshackle homes in San Martin and Morgan Hill.
But in his argument Tuesday morning, Boyd pointed out that the defendant was not aware of the years of sexual abuse that his father, who is serving a life sentence for those crimes, inflicted on a young female relative while Garcia-Torres was a child.
And while Garcia-Torres’ mother Laura Torres testified that her alcoholic ex-husband was also physically and emotionally abusive of her, Boyd said the jury had not been presented any evidence to suggest that the defendant had been abused at home.
“He had family who cared about him around him,” Boyd said.
As for the fact that Garcia-Torres grew up in poverty, Boyd asked, “Are we not taking away the moral agency of every other person who’s experienced poverty and farm life in this world if we say ‘No, no, you get the lesser punishment for this monstrous, death penalty-eligible crime?'”
A medical toxicologist testified last week that Garcia-Torres was exposed to pesticides while growing up in a shack in the middle of the San Martin strawberry fields where his parents picked fruit.
But of the Florida-based toxicologist, Boyd said, “He has no evidence whatsoever that this defendant suffered any harmful effects. None.”
Two weeks ago, jurors saw photos of a young Garcia-Torres smiling and goofing around with his ex-girlfriend and their two daughters, the younger of whom was born after his arrest on May 21, 2012.
Torres testified through an interpreter last week that she always brought Garcia-Torres’ daughters to visit him at San Jose’s Main Jail and that the two looked forward to their weekly phone calls with him.
But Boyd argued that Garcia-Torres’ role as a father is overshadowed by the enormity of his crimes, balking at the notion that “he deserves the lesser punishment because he could procreate.”
Boyd urged the jury repeatedly to not spare Garcia-Torres the fate that he inflicted on Sierra, asking why mercy and compassion should be exercised on a murderer who did not show the same to his victim.
“There is not much worse than the murder of a child,” Boyd said. “She saw the true face of evil, and he was touching her naked body.”
The defense got the final word, arguing Garcia-Torres grew up in a toxic environment filled with poverty and pesticides, violence, neglect and loss.
The defense lawyer asked the jury to consider the whole person when voting to take someone’s life. His voice cracking towards the end, he asked that the jury show mercy.
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