Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Antolin Garcia-Torres, the man charged with kidnapping and murdering teenager Sierra LaMar, the Santa Clara County District Attorney announced Monday
"He took her away from us," Sierra's father, Steve LaMar told NBC Bay Area, acknowledging that the decision could add more years to the legal drama. "She isn't here to enjoy her life. We agree he should receive the ultimate punishment."
Torres' alternate defender, David Epps, told NBC Bay Area in an email that he and co-counsel, Al Lopez, are "extremely disappointed" Rosen is seeking the death penalty, saying that the "circumstances of the case and the criminal record" of their client don't appear to rise the level of capital punishment.
"As everyone is aware, there are serious issues with the administration of the death penalty not only here in California but around the nation," Epps wrote. " Since 1973, 112 death row inmates have been exonerated. We have always viewed this as a missing person case not a homicide.”
Rosen sent a letter to Santa Clara County Presiding Judge Thang N. Barrett (PDF) on Monday informing him of his decision - the first time his office has sought capital punishment since being elected in 2010.
"Given the facts of this case and after a comprehensive review...I have concluded that this defendant should face the ultimate penalty," Rosen said in a statement. Rosen declined to say more, adding that he did not want to taint the jury pool.
Sierra was last seen at her bus stop in Morgan Hill on March 16, 2012. Her abduction deeply affected the Bay Area, especially because the 15-year-old girl's body has never been found. Volunteers continue to search for her remains, even two years after her disappearance and assumed death.
Her father told NBC Bay Area in March that it's been an extremely "frustrating" two years, both in terms of not knowing what happened to his daughter, and because the court process has taken so long.
Garcia-Torres, a one-time grocery clerk, pleaded not guilty in February 2014. He was formally indicted by a criminal grand jury that week of three counts of attempted kidnapping and carjacking for three separate crimes in 2009 outside South Bay supermarkets, as well as the Sierra's murder and kidnap.
The last time a Santa Clara County jury decided to put a man to death was in 2010. In fact, there were two cases that year. Juries found that both Rodrigo Paniagua Jr. should be sentenced to death for stabbing his pregnant girlfriend and young daughters, before setting him on fire. A jury also decided to execute Melvin Forte in that same year for kidnapping, raping and murdering a 23-year-old German woman, Ines Sailer.
Before that, a Santa Clara County jury hadn't come back with a positive death penalty since 1997.
Legal Analyst Steven Clark said the DA's decision to seek the death penalty against Garcia-Torres means it could now be years before the case goes to trial.
“I am surprised by the DA's decision,” Clark said. “There is no body and no evidence of trauma or a crime scene.”
For his part, LaMar said he is aware he and his family will have to wait even longer now, but he says he still feels it is important to pursue the death penalty for the man accused of murdering his daughter.