Sierra LaMar Case: Grand Jury Report Highlights DNA Evidence - NBC Southern California

Sierra LaMar Case: Grand Jury Report Highlights DNA Evidence



    New evidence released late Friday is shedding more light on the investigation into what happened to Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar. Robert Handa reports. (Published Friday, July 11, 2014)

    New evidence released late Friday afternoon is shedding more light on the investigation into what  happened to Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar.

    Two years after LaMar was last seen by the bus stop near her home, the search to find her continues.

    Friends, family and even strangers have volunteered – and continue to volunteer – their time to bring Sierra home, hopeful that she is still alive.

    Twenty-two-year-old former supermarket employee Antolin Garcia-Torres was charged with Sierra’s kidnapping and murder and is currently in Santa Clara Jail. Garcia-Torres pleaded not guilty in February.

    The Santa Clara County Court unsealed nearly 2,000 pages of grand jury documents tied to the case at 5 p.m. Friday. It makes public, for the first time, some of the evidence that prosecutors have against Garcia Torres.

    The transcripts show the grand jury brought in a host of experts to confirm DNA evidence in the case. (Editor's note: The court has placed restrictions against posting the report online.)

    “The defense is gonna say, ‘Even if they were together, there was a perfectly innocent explanation for that, and Sierra Lamar is a missing person – she’s not dead’ – but the DA has to show that something sinister happened,” NBC legal analyst Steven Clark said after reviewing the report.

    Some of the references in the transcript are graphic. Those references to bodily fluids and a rope found in the suspect's trunk might make it more difficult for the defense to argue that any encounter between Garcia-Torres and LaMar was "innocent."

    Much of the DNA testimony revolved around the DNA of bodily fluids, including some found on Sierra LaMar’s clothing. According to the testimony in the transcript, the bodily fluids reveal an encounter between the two had to be more than just casual.

    The report also states hair belonging to LaMar was found in the trunk of a vehicle belonging to Garcia-Torres: “It was Sierra's hair on a rope inside Antolin Garcia-Torres's trunk when it was seized April 7, 2012.” 

    In addition to the murder of Sierra LaMar, the indictment against Garcia-Torres includes charges for two separate attacks and kidnapping attempts on two women in a Safeway parking lot in Morgan Hill, where he worked. The transcript shows a lot of testimony surrounding what happened to those victims.

    “These three other cases the DA put on evidence of are the building blocks of their murder case involving Sierra LaMar,” Clark said. “They show a pattern of behavior, a method of operation that Garcia-Torres is a predator on young women.”

    Garcia-Torres did not know Sierra LaMar -- he didn't talk to her, he didn't have any online communication with her on any social media platform, according to the transcripts.

    The transcripts also revealed the grand jury interviewed Garcia-Torres’s girlfriend, Francine Sarmiento. Sarmiento also said she had never seen or heard of Sierra LaMar before the news story came up about her being missing.

    Although grand jury transcripts are usually public documents, the criminal grand jury indictment proceedings in the case of People v Antolin Garcia Torres was sealed for more than four months.

    The defense did not want the transcripts unsealed, claiming it will lead to an unfair trial. The judge in the case has said previously that a public's right to access trumps concerns over pre-trial publicity.

    The highly-anticipated documents were expected to provide some answers to Sierra’s disappearance and the case against her alleged killer. Sierra’s body has never been found. The girl, who was 15 when she was last seen, would be 17 years old today.

    Sierra’s father Steve LaMar told NBC Bay Area on the two-year anniversary of her disappearance in March that a part of him really wants to believe that Sierra was kidnapped and is still alive.

    When asked whether he has any doubt that Garcia-Torres was involved, LaMar said, “he definitely knows something.”

    The Santa Clara District Attorney has often said it believes Sierra is dead, based on DNA found in Garcia-Torres’ car.

    “We will learn a lot about this DNA evidence that we’ve been hearing about,” Clark said prior to the report's release. “Where was the DNA evidence located in Garcia Torres’ vehicle? What kind of DNA was it? All of that will be made clear in the grand jury transcripts.”

    Clark said that a grand jury transcript is generally very one-sided because it’s only for the DA to present its case, not for the defense to counter it.

    The stakes are higher now for Garcia-Torres because the DA said last month he’s seeking the death penalty. In that case, documents such as grand jury transcripts could bolster the case against him.

    A dedicated group of about 25 volunteers still meets on Saturdays to search for Sierra in the Morgan Hill area.


    NBC Bay Area's Kris Sanchez contributed to this report.