A 21-year old man accused of murdering missing Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar made a brief appearance in Santa Clara County Superior Court in San Jose this afternoon. Antolin Garcia-Torres, of Morgan Hill, appeared before Judge Jerome Nadler but his arraignment was continued to May 31. He will be represented by the public defender’s office and is being held without bail. Garcia-Torres did not speak in court, and stood subdued with his head bowed.
The district attorney’s office has charged Garcia-Torres with one count of murder, with the special circumstance of committing the murder during a kidnapping. District Attorney Jeff Rosen said after the hearing that Garcia-Torres is eligible for the death penalty, but that his office hasn’t yet decided whether to pursue capital punishment. “My office and law enforcement, aided by many volunteers in this county, continue to devote all available resources to finding her body,” Rosen said of 15-year-old Sierra. “We hope that will happen soon to give her family some measure of peace,” he said. A probable cause statement from the sheriff’s office that was released by the district attorney’s office today provided more details about the morning of Sierra’s disappearance.
Sierra woke up at 6 a.m. on March 16 and began getting ready for school. Her mother’s boyfriend had left for work, and her mother left a short time later, according to the document. Sierra posted a photo of herself on a social media website at 7 a.m., and text-messaged a classmate at 7:11 a.m. to make plans to meet at school that day to compare their schoolwork and share makeup, according to the statement. She typically left home by 7:15 a.m. and caught the bus to school at an unmarked bus stop several blocks from her house at 7:24 a.m., according to the document. However, she never made it to school that day.
Her cellphone was found the next day in a field within a mile of her home, and two days after her disappearance, her black-and-white Juicy-brand purse was found near a shed in a field less than 2 miles from her house. The purse contained schoolbooks, clothing and other items. DNA collected from the clothing was found to have a “strong association” to that of Antolin Garcia-Torres, who lived 7 miles from Sierra’s home, according to the statement. Garcia-Torres drove a red 1998 Volkswagen Jetta, which was seized by investigators on April 7. DNA found in the car was a likely match to that of Sierra LaMar, the document states.
Sheriff Laurie Smith said at a news conference on Tuesday that investigators have not found any blood, and have not located a murder weapon or identified a motive for the alleged killing. Sierra’s family members are holding out hope for the teen’s safe return, but Smith said investigators believe she is no longer alive. She pointed out that Sierra is very active socially but has not posted on any social media sites or contacted anyone by phone since the morning of her disappearance. The probable cause statement noted that all of Sierra’s personal belongings, including her asthma inhaler, her money, her house keys, and the clothing she was wearing the morning of her disappearance, have been located.
Smith said there is no indication that Sierra and Garcia-Torres knew each other.
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