Friday, July 11, 2014

Sierra LaMar: Hard Case for the Prosecution

In California two years ago, a fifteen year old girl named Sierra LaMar disappeared while walking to her bus stop.  Not long after, police had a suspect in mind:  Antolin Garcia-Torres .  Police have not revealed how they connected Sierra LaMar to Garcia-Torres, but they have linked his DNA to Sierra's clothing found not far from where the presumed victim lived. 

The DNA alone will not result in a conviction as there are many ways Sierra LeMar's DNA can intermingle with that of another person without her being dead.   To be blunt, the defense may perhaps claim that Sierra had sex with Garcia-Torres and that he dropped her back off at the bus stop. 

The term "presumed victim" is used here because no body has been found and defense attorneys are sure to argue that she is still alive, perhaps kidnapped by someone else, or perhaps a runaway.   This is a typical and very common quandary posed by cases in which habeas corpus is a major factor.  Habeas corpus--if you've accused my client, then you must produce the body--quite literally in this case.

No body, no crime, the defense attorney will say.  So what do the police have on Garcia-Torres, besides her DNA on her clothing?  The answers may come when the grand jury transcript is released to the public in accord with a judge's order. 

The defense attorneys for the accused have tried to have the transcript sealed, but grand jury transcripts are typically part of the public record.  The San Jose Mercury pressed for the information and got it.  The transcript will be released very soon.

What distinguishes this case from a host of others is that, without a body, the state has intimated that it will seek the death penalty.  If what the police say is true, that Garcia-Torres is charged with the attempted kidnap of two other women,  it's very likely he will be found guilty.

The death penalty?  Well, without a body, that will be a stretch for any jury in California.