Sierra LaMar vanished without a trace on March 6, 2012; nearly five years later, her murder trial is slated to begin following months of delay. The then-15-year-old Santa Clara County, California cheerleader was last seen by her family when leaving her home to walk to her school bus stop on that fateful March morning. Despite a widespread and exhaustive search, neither Sierra LaMar nor her remains have ever been located.
Despite the lack of a body, a 21-year-old high school dropout has been charged with both her kidnapping and her murder. As Fox News reports, if suspect Antolin García-Torres is convicted at the Sierra LaMar murder trial, which began Monday, he could potentially face a death sentence.
— Mercury News (@mercnews) January 30, 2017
It is incredibly unusual for prosecutors to pursue a murder conviction in a case where a body is never found. However, in the case of the Sierra LaMar murder trial, prosecutors and detectives believe that they have enough evidence to prove that Garcia-Torres both kidnapped and murdered LaMar, who was a sophomore at Sobrato High School when she disappeared.
According to investigators in her case, only days after the teen went missing, her personal effects were found near her home just one day after Sierra vanished. Police found Sierra LaMar’s bag, her clothes “neatly folded” inside of it, as well as her cellphone, not far from where she was last seen. According to authorities, her cellphone was damaged when it was found and had the appearance of having been thrown, likely from a moving vehicle.
Attention quickly turned to murder suspect Antolin García-Torres, who was detained and charged in May of 2012. He was accused of kidnapping and killing Sierra LaMar, as well as with attempted kidnapping in three other cases dating back to 2009. Police searching for Sierra LaMar zeroed in on Garcia-Torres after the missing teen’s DNA was found in his car trunk.
Prosecutors and investigators also claim to have additional “strong physical evidence” that indicates that the accused was involved in the disappearance of Sierra LaMar and, according to County Sheriff Laurie Smith, the teen’s murder.
“We believe we have probable cause that he committed the kidnapping and murder of Sierra LaMar.”
Trial for Antolin Garcia-Torres who is charged with murder in kidnapping of Sierra LaMar is set for April 25, 2016 pic.twitter.com/ci7HwSDA9s
— KTVU (@KTVU) September 3, 2015
While prosecutors, including District Attorney Jeff Rosen, are seeking the death penalty in the murder of Sierra LaMar, experts realize that securing a conviction in the case will be an uphill battle at best. Because Sierra’s remains were never found, no autopsy was ever performed. Prosecutors have no confession, no cause of death, and no murder weapon.
#SierraLaMar trial day 1. Something stinks…and its sitting at the defense table.
— Marc Klaas (@PollyDad) January 30, 2017
Chilling new #sierralamar facts: strong smell of urine on her jeans found in field, indicating she was either frightened or dead
— tracey kaplan (@tkaplanreport) January 30, 2017
@AzenithKTVU this is heartbreaking. So upsetting it's taken this long to get to trial. Will you be tweeting throughout?
— Angel Howlett (@AngelHowlett) January 30, 2017
Suspect Garcia-Torres has pleaded not-guilty in the death penalty murder case, and as KTVU 2 reports, his defense team may argue that Sierra LaMar could still be alive, thus negating a murder charge in the case of her disappearance.
On Monday, the murder trial in the Sierra LaMar case was scheduled to begin, alternate juror selection and opening statements being the goal of the day. Reportedly, Sierra’s distraught family could be seen in the courtroom, and heard crying as a 911 call from the day Sierra went missing was played.
Can hear sniffles in the courtroom. Sierra's mother, sister holding tissues. Sierra's father keeping head down. #ktvu
— Azenith Smith (@AzenithKTVU) January 30, 2017
— Azenith Smith (@AzenithKTVU) January 30, 2017
The murder trial has been delayed for months as the suspect’s defense team argued that they needed more time for preparation and to review the mountains of documents prosecutors had compiled in the case.
When Sierra LaMar first went missing, the search for the teen and/or her remains was massive, drawing crowds of hundreds of volunteers and even utilizing air support. The teen came to be known as “Everyone’s Daughter,” and the slogan, along with photos of her face, were seen on posters and t-shirts near her home and across the country.
Alternate juror selection underway in trial of Antolin Garcia Torres, accused in 2012 alleged murder of Sierra LaMar of Morgan Hill pic.twitter.com/5lqsg00RDI
— @Rob Fladeboe kron4 (@KRON4RFladeboe) January 30, 2017
If prosecutors in the case are unable to secure a conviction against suspect Antolin García-Torres in their “no body murder trial,” they will be unable to try him again even if new evidence in the LaMar case, such as Sierra’s body, is recovered in the future.
It is expected that the Sierra LaMar murder trial will go on for several months.
[Featured Image by Ben Margot/File/AP Photo]