A 26-year-old man was found guilty Tuesday of abducting and killing Sierra LaMar, a Northern California teenager who disappeared five years ago and whose remains have never been found.
Jurors in San Jose delivered their verdict shortly after 9 a.m. in the 13-week murder trial of Antolin Garcia-Torres, court officials said. He was also accused of trying to kidnap and carjack three South Bay women in 2009 in grocery store parking lots.
Sierra, a vibrant cheerleader from Morgan Hill, about 30 miles south of San Jose, vanished on March 16, 2012, while on her way to school.
In the days after her disappearance, authorities found her cellphone and her purse, with her underwear and San Jose Sharks jersey folded inside. For years, even though she was presumed to be dead, volunteer search teams continued to scour the area looking for any signs of the missing 15-year-old.
“Nothing will take away the pain and the sorrow that we experience every day and that we will continue to experience for the rest of our lives,” Sierra’s mother, Marlene LaMar, said Tuesday outside a San Jose courthouse.
Standing beside her husband and daughter, Marlene LaMar said she believed jurors made the right decision.
“It gives us peace as a family knowing this is not going to happen to another child,” she said.
Sierra’s father, Steve LaMar, said the verdict doesn’t give his family a sense of closure, but “it helps.” Justice, he said, was served for Sierra.
“So that gives us some form of relief,” he said. “It will never take away our grief that will be with us forever.”
The jury must now decide if Garcia-Torres will be sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole. The penalty phase starts May 16.
In the penalty phase, Deputy Dist. Atty. David Boyd said, Sierra’s family and friends will be allowed to speak about the impact her loss has had on their lives.
Garcia-Torres was arrested in May 2012 based on DNA evidence found on clothing in Sierra’s purse, authorities said. Garcia-Torres’ DNA was already on file from a previous assault.
Prosecutors said physical evidence recovered from Sierra’s clothing and Garcia-Torres’ car also tied him to her disappearance. Investigators told jurors Sierra’s hair was found on a rope in his car, the Associated Press reported.
At the time, investigators said they thought Garcia-Torres had picked Sierra to be his victim at random.
In 2014, Garcia-Torres was indicted by a Santa Clara County grand jury in Sierra’s case.
During the trial, defense attorney Alfonso Lopez argued that Garcia-Torres, who lived seven miles from Sierra, was not responsible for her disappearance, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Garcia-Torres’ attorneys contended that Sierra may have run away.
11:40 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with comments from Sierra LaMar’s family and lawyers for the prosecution and defense.
9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with a guilty verdict in the case.
This article was originally published at 9:15 a.m.