San Jose

Twist in Sierra LaMar Trial: Previous Overturned Murder Conviction

A sheriff's detective's false statements prompted a judge to reverse convictions on two accused killers last year; the same witness testified for the prosecution against Garcia Torres

A new development in the Sierra LaMar murder trial was revealed Wednesday, and it could get convicted killer Antolin Garcia Torres a new trial or help him in appeal, a legal expert says.

A judge recently overturned a murder verdict in another case after determining the lead detective gave false testimony. That same detective was a key witness and investigator in the Sierra LaMar trial.

The previous murder case in question involved defendants David Pilipina and Eddie Rivera, who were convicted last year in the murder of Kristina Harris Perkins in San Jose.

Just last week, the judge in that case overturned the verdict, partially because it was determined that Santa Clara County Sheriff's detective Sgt. Herman Leon gave false statistical evidence.

Leon also testified in the Sierra LaMar trial.

The defense team for Garcia Torres pounced on the new information Wednesday, bringing it up before a judge during the penalty phase proceedings at the Hall of Justice in San Jose. They asked for more information on the overturned case.

"I think it will be a centerpiece of a motion for a new trial or on appeal," legal analyst Steven Clark said.

The defense attorneys declined to comment on the details of their request. The specifics of Leon's testimony will be key, Clark said.

"The fact the officer's testimony was the basis for overturning a murder conviction is significant," he said. "Now the question is what exactly did he testify in the Sierra LaMar case, and would the defense have tried it differently if they'd known of the credibility issue."

Sierra, 15, disappeared in March 2012 while walking to a school bus stop in Morgan Hill, and her body has not been found.

On Wednesday, during the penalty phase for Garcia Torres, the jury heard tearful testimony from two of Sierra's friends and her sister Danielle.

The same jury that convicted Garcia Torres of first-degree murder last week must decide whether he gets the death penalty or serves life in prison without parole.

Sierra's parents are expected to testify Thursday.

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