San Francisco

Runaway Defense Considered in Sierra LaMar Murder Trial

Attorneys to submit as evidence a note possibly written by teen that indicates she intended to run away from home

A contentious showdown is brewing in the Sierra LaMar murder trial as defense attorneys for Antolin Garcia-Torres appear to be contemplating a defense that says the Morgan Hill-area teen is still alive and has run away from home.

On Monday, a hearing is set for attorneys to argue whether a note, possibly written by the missing teenager, will be allowed as evidence. The note indicates Sierra contemplated running away around the time she went missing.

The runaway theory is something the defense has floated since the grand jury transcripts were released more than two years ago. But on Monday, the court will focus on documents that came out this week in pretrial motions that show why the defense believes it can prove the theory.

Sierra disappeared after leaving her Morgan Hill-area home for school on March 16, 2012. Garcia-Torres was arrested and charged with murder, even though Sierra's body has never been found. Now, more than four years later, jury selection has started in the murder trial, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty.

Garcia-Torres has pleaded not guilty.

On Monday, Judge Vanessa Zecher will hear arguments on proposed evidence that experts say is crucial to the defense. According to court documents obtained by NBC Bay Area, the defense wants to introduce a note found in Sierra's notebook that, if authentic, indicates the teenager planned to run away on the date she disappeared.

Documents say the note, written in Spanish, says, "I hate my life" and "I will be in San Francisco by 3/16/12."

"The defense is going to point to these statements that she allegedly made, and the friends' statements, that she was ready to run away," legal analyst Steven Clark said.

The prosecution is ready to dismiss the theory. According to court documents, the District Attorney's Office points out the notebook was taken from Sierra's locker by students and then seized by school officials. The prosecution believes there is no proof the note was written by Sierra, and Sierra's sister says it's not in Sierra's handwriting. Prosecutors call the note an obvious prank.

"The judge is going to have to decide whether or not this evidence is reliable enough to get to the jury," Clark said.

Clark added that the runaway theory doesn't explain away DNA evidence or Torres' incriminating statements to police.

Sierra's parents declined to comment Wednesday. They have said since the runaway theory first emerged two years ago that they do not believe she ran away from home.

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