According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children are reported missing each year in the United States. That translates to roughly 2,000 children per day. We don’t need to tell you that this is a lot, you can discern that for yourself.
It’s a terrible thing when a child disappears, not simply for that child’s family, but for the community at large. Though it can bring a community together, it can also breed mistrust amongst one’s friends and neighbors. And even when the culprit behind such criminality is eventually discovered, the long term consequences on society as a whole can be disastrous…
Featured Photo Credit: www.abc7news.com
It happened, like so many of these stories do, on a normal weekday. It was Friday, March 16, 2012, the end of a long week. Sierra LaMar was 16 years old at the time and like most teens, was looking forward to the weekend more than anything else. Also like most teens, Sierra took the bus to school.
Sierra had begun that morning like she always did. She got ready, ate breakfast, and said goodbye to her mother before heading off to the bus stop. She never made it to school that day. When they noticed her unauthorized absence, the school contacted her parents and before long, the great search began…
Twelve Days Later
Twelve days had passed since Sierra had gone missing and investigators were still no closer to finding her. Her family had not given hope that she might be alive, but as many people know, a child’s likelihood of survival dwindles with each passing day. Nevertheless, they did have some leads on the person they believed kidnapped her.
Now, six years after Sierra’s disappearance, a jury of six men and six women are considering whether or not 25-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres actually murdered Sierra LaMar. There are a number of key factors working against him, one of them being DNA evidence, but the problem before them involves what is currently lacking in the prosecution’s case; Sierra’s body…
Garcia-Torres wasn’t just a scapegoat though. He had a bit of a record of attempting this type of thing in the past. In 2009, four years before Sierra LaMar disappeared, Garcia-Torres had been accused of trying to kidnap three separate women from the parking lots of two Safeway stores in the Morgan Hill area.
Unfortunately, not one of the three kidnapping victims could pick Garcia-Torres out of a photo lineup. Nevertheless, Investigators had already begun 24-hour surveillance of Garcia-Torres before the twelfth day after they had found a bag of evidence that might have been linked to him. Inside the bag was a pair of Sierra’s jeans, which the alleged killer had dumped in a bag near her home…
It would be a further two years before Sheriff’s deputies finally arrested Garcia-Torres. Sierra’s body had still not been found, but they believed that they had enough evidence to tie him to the kidnapping at the very least. He pleaded not guilty in court, but the ball didn’t get rolling on the trial for some time after that.
In the end, it took a secret criminal grand jury indictment to finally get the case moving. Once the process had begun in earnest, Garcia-Torres was indicted on felony kidnap and murder charges. This could mean that he faced life in prison or, if the judge and jury so-willed it, a death sentence…
Garcia-Torres’ defense attorneys were pretty quiet about their strategy from the onset, which some legal experts believed that this in and of itself was their strategy. After all, the police and prosecution still hadn’t found Sierra’s body, without it, the district attorney would have a hard time proving that she was dead; let alone that Garcia-Torres had killer her.
The Last Search
At the same time, Sierra’s family was coming to a dreadful conclusion of their own. They had spent the better part of nearly four years searching for her body to no avail. Finally, it came time to call off the search. In March of 2015, the family participated in the last regularly-scheduled search for her body…
The defense began by pointing out that Garcia-Torres, a man being accused of the abuse, abduction, and murder, was actually the son of a man who did those things to a young female relative when he was only a child. They added that the defendant was not at all aware of this, but that he may have been mentally affected by it growing up.
This was coupled with the fact that the defendant’s mother, Laura Torres, testified that her alcoholic ex-husband was both physically and emotionally abusive to her as well. All of this could have had an adverse effect on his development. Now, this was a far cry from claiming that Garcia-Torres was mentally ill, but it gave the jury something to think about…
The prosecutor, meanwhile, argued that the jury had not been presented with any evidence that might suggest the defendant himself had been abused at home. What they did learn was how Garcia-Torres had been exposed to pesticides while growing up in a shack in the middle of the San Martin strawberry fields.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Garcia-Torres parents had both picked fruit in those fields and had lived a simple life. A shack would have provided very little protection from the constant stream of pesticides. Nevertheless, a toxicologist did test the defendant and concluded that he suffered no harmful effects from being around those allegedly toxic chemicals. Now it was time for Sierra’s parents to speak…
Though prison time had originally been on the table, Santa Clara County prosecutors were seeking the death penalty against Garcia-Torres. The belief was that he kidnapped and murdered Sierra and therefore deserved the maximum penalty. However appropriate this penalty might have seemed to some, the evidence still needed to be considered.
Sierra’s mother, Marlene LaMar, was called to the stand during the trial. Speaking through tears, LaMar gave emotional testimony against Garcia-Torres. She spoke of the kind, beautiful person her daughter was and how much potential she had. After months of exhaustive testimony, the jury reached a conclusion…
The Limits of Justice
Prosecutor David Boyd spoke about the limits of justice in his closing statement. He urged jurors to vote unanimously for the death penalty and he was driving a hard bargain. “What penalty does justice require?” he began. “What penalty does the evidence in this case compel? What penalty is the only moral and just punishment for the defendant’s crimes?”
The Easy Path
Boyd called life in prison without the possibility of parole, the “easy path” adding that “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.” One might argue that there is nothing easy about giving the death penalty. That it is a simple, cut-and-dry penalty to give….
When all was said and done, the jury returned with their unanimous decision to give Antolin Garcia-Torres life in prison without the possibility of parole. Steve and Linda LaMar were heartbroken by the news, disappointed that their daughter’s killer would be able to live and breath while she didn’t even get a proper burial.
“He’ll be able to eat every day,” Steve LaMar explained after the trial. “See his family. We don’t have that. His family doesn’t grieve. We’ll grieve for the rest of our lives…” At the present time, Garcia-Torres is not talking about where he may have hidden Sierra’s body. Time will tell if he ever decides to come clean. Check out the verdict in the video below…