Jury to Begin Deliberating in Penalty Phase of Sierra LaMar’s Murder Trial

NBC Bay Area

Jurors in the four-month Sierra LaMar murder trial are expected to begin penalty phase deliberations Wednesday morning, in which they will decide whether the missing teen's killer should face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Antolin Garcia-Torres, 26, was convicted May 9 of the first-degree murder of the 15-year-old in 2012 and of the attempted kidnappings of three women in two dark Morgan Hill Safeway parking lots in 2009.

In his closing argument on Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Brian Matthews responded to prosecutor David Boyd's remark that Garcia-Torres did not deserve the mercy or compassion of a life sentence.

"I am asking you to exercise mercy, and I'm proud to say that," Matthews said. "Mercy's a good thing. Mercy's an important thing. It ennobles the giver."

Matthews reiterated the poverty, abuse, neglect, incest and loss that characterized Garcia-Torres' home life growing up in ramshackle homes in San Martin, where his parents, who married in Michoacan, Mexico when his mother was 13, picked strawberries.

Garcia-Torres father, Genaro Garcia Fernandez, an alcoholic who the defendant's mother testified was physically and emotionally abusive to her, is serving a life sentence for the sexual abuse of a young female relative.

The defendant's mother, Laura Torres, testified last week that Garcia Fernandez hit her on three occasions when she was pregnant with Garcia-Torres and threatened to kill Torres and the children after Garcia-Torres was born.

But the horrors that Garcia-Torres' family faced during his childhood did not all affect him directly, Boyd argued this morning. The defense has not claimed that the defendant himself was abused.

Additionally, the defense cannot present information about Garcia-Torres' childhood as an explanation for the crimes committed. It is simply presented as sympathetic evidence.

"Antolin's story is not that of a person who was given all the advantages in life and then did something horrible," Matthews said.

He continued: "He was exposed to abuse. That's a reason for life. He was exposed to violence. That's a reason for life."

While the jury's guilty verdict indicates that prosecutors proved Garcia-Torres involvement in Sierra's death beyond a reasonable doubt, Matthews emphasized that any lingering doubt should be cause for a life sentence.

"The prosecution talks about what could have happened to Sierra, about unmentionable things that happened to Sierra," Matthews said. "They're asking you to speculate, to guess."

"Was her death a tragic accident? If it was, that certainly would be a reason to vote for life," Matthews said.

Legal analyst Steven Clark weighed in on the defense's attempt to paint Garcia Torries as a man shaped by poverty and violence, while the prosecutor focused on a family in pain.

"I think what the DA tried to stress here is the fact that there is no body makes this crime especially cruel for the family, and Antolin Garcia Torres does not deserve mercy because he did not show that to Sierra or her family," Clark said.

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