The prosecution rested its case this morning in the penalty phase of the months-long trial in the murder of Sierra LaMar, wrapping up three days of victim impact testimony with distraught statements from the missing teenager’s parents. Following the presentation of evidence by the defense next week, the same jury who on May 9 found 26-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres guilty of the 2012 murder and three attempted kidnappings in 2009 will decide whether to impose the death penalty or a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
One of the women Garcia-Torres tried to kidnap in a dark Safeway parking lot in March 2009 testified to the impact that event had on her, leaving her fearful to this day of going grocery shopping or trail running by herself at night. At the time of the kidnap attempt, the woman’s family was under financial stress, causing a strain in her marriage. But when the victim and her now ex-husband talk about their marriage and divorce, she said they point to the kidnapping attempt as the final straw. “It broke us.
It broke our family because it required so much emotional investment and so much time,” the woman said. Sierra’s father Steve LaMar, who has attended almost every day of the trial, took the stand for the first time today. Santa Clara County prosecutor David Boyd questioned LaMar about what he remembered about Sierra as a baby, a child and a teenager. 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. Marlene LaMar, 57, began sobbing as she was being sworn in to take the stand and could barely get words out when asked to spell her name for the record. “I miss her dancing. She loved dancing so much,” Marlene LaMar said, recalling Sierra’s compassion for others. Sierra made posters for her school to raise awareness about recent kidnappings and rapes in Nigeria, Marlene LaMar said. “She was always righteous that way,” she said.
Garcia-Torres, who throughout the trial smirked with his attorneys, stood up straight and maintained a confident demeanor, has looked uncharacteristically solemn this week with reddish eyes and a puffy face. When Boyd projected photos of Sierra as a baby, as a pre-teen making silly faces on vacation with her father, and in a cheerleading uniform as a teenager, the defendant, who throughout the trial has looked at the courtroom television screen when it has been used to display evidence, stared straight ahead without glancing at the screen.
Several jurors were seen crying after the LaMars’ testimony, as were some of the more than 750 volunteers who searched for Sierra after she disappeared, a few of whom have attended almost every day of the trial. Attorneys and Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher are set to hold a hearing in open court, outside the presence of the jury, at 2 p.m. today.
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