SAN JOSE — After 13 weeks of testimony, the capital murder trial of the man accused of killing missing teen Sierra LaMar is winding down, with closing arguments set to begin Tuesday morning.
Prosecutor David Boyd will argue first. Defendant Antolin Garcia-Torres’ lead defense attorney, Al Lopez, will follow, either late Tuesday or early Wednesday. Then Boyd will have a chance to offer a rebuttal.
Closing closing arguments in the Santa Clara County Superior Court trial could stretch through Thursday morning. Jury deliberations will begin afterward, more than five years after 15-year-old Sierra disappeared on March 16, 2012, on the way to her school bus stop in a rural community north of Morgan Hill.
Garcia-Torres, 25, has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and killing Sierra and attempting to kidnap three other women three years earlier. Sierra’s body has not been found, despite a years-long effort by more than 750 volunteers from around the Bay Area.
If convicted, Garcia-Torres could be sentenced to death or to life in prison without parole, after a second part of the trial involving the same jury, called the penalty phase.
However, if the jury acquits him, the law prevents prosecutors from trying him again for Sierra’s murder even if new evidence arises.
Without her body, prosecutors Boyd and Dana Veazey face an extra hurdle in winning a conviction. They have had to prove their case without an autopsy, a murder weapon or witness statements.
The defense claims Sierra is not dead, saying she ran away without a trace primarily because she was unhappy about having to move from her beloved Fremont to Morgan Hill with her mom and mom’s boyfriend.
Lopez also put a witness on the stand who offered what suggested was another possible motive for why the cheerleader with the long shiny hair and a heart-shaped face ran away: She was sexually interested in “girls” and worried about her religious mother’s reaction.
But Boyd argued that even though Sierra’s body has not been found, “She had no reason to abandon everything she knew, loved and cared about.” He also pointed out repeatedly that she was dependent on her parents financially, was close to her parents and had many close friends, including her older sister Danielle, and didn’t even have a driver’s license
With no body, DNA became the star of the trial. Jurors had to listen for days to often-tedious expert testimony from prosecution and defense witnesses.
The prosecution called crime lab analysts to the stand who testified they found DNA consistent with Garcia-Torres’ on Sierra’s pants — and DNA consistent with hers in his 1998 red Jetta, including on a cloth glove in his trunk and on a single strand of her hair on a rope. The findings are considered crucial because Garcia-Torres claimed they never met.
But defense lawyers Bicka Barlow, Lopez and Brian Matthews disputed the findings. They alleged sheriff’s deputies mishandled and contaminated the evidence. They also contended that the crime lab, which is supervised by the District Attorney’s Office, failed to conduct a thorough, impartial investigation. And they said that the science is evolving so rapidly it would be wrong for the jury to view DNA results as solid proof.
The prosecution also focused the jury’s attention on another piece of potentially incriminating testimony: Garcia-Torres’ fingerprint was found on the battery of a stun gun used by the assailant in one of the attempted kidnappings of the three women in Safeway parking lots in Morgan Hill in 2009.
The defense claimed Garcia-Torres’ fingerprint is on the battery because he worked at Safeway as a bag boy and had re-shelved battery packages that had split open.
The reactivation of Sierra’s cell phone about 12 hours after she disappeared also became an issue in the trial. An expert witness for defense suggested the reactivation means someone else could have abducted her or that she turned the phone on herself.
However, the prosecution flew in an expert from Samsung in South Korea, Oh Dong Hyeob, who helped design the phone. He testified Tuesday through a translator that moisture intrusion could have caused the phone to react.
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