ALEXANDRIA, Va. – After hearing days of testimony implicating Jorge Torrez as the killer of two young girls in Illinois in 2005, jurors decided today that he should be put to death in a separate case – the murder of a sailor four years later.
The decision drew mixed reaction from the mother and grandmother of one of the girls killed in Zion, Ill.
Laura Hobbs’ mother, Sheila Hollabaugh, said she supports the death penalty for Torrez. “I only wish I could do it myself,” she said.
Hollabaugh, 38, who now lives in Pennsylvania, said she still thinks about her daughter’s death frequently. “I don’t think that’ll ever go away,” she said.
Hobbs’ grandmother, JoAnn Hobbs of Wichita Falls, Tex., said she thinks death is “the easy way out” for Torrez.
“I’d rather he stayed alive and suffered, but that’s just my opinion,” she said. “(Execution) is too quick, as far as I’m concerned. “
The jury’s decision was announced this afternoon after more than four hours of deliberation.
Jurors chose the death penalty over life in prison for Torrez, 25, in the murder of sailor Amanda Jean Snell in the Washington, D.C., area. He was convicted of her murder April 8, but has not yet been tried in the Illinois killings.
Making a closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trump summarized Torrez's alleged attacks on women and girls, condemning him as a man who didn't care about six female victims -- three of whom were slain – but regarded them as "prizes" or "trophies."
Trump said that "this little man -- this coward -- can't admit he brutally murdered two little girls" for sexual gratification.
Laura Hobbs, 8, and Krystal Tobias, 9, were stabbed repeatedly in Zion's Beulah Park on Mother's Day in 2005. The crime is notorious both for its brutality and for the fact that Lake County authorities first prosecuted Laura’s father, Jerry Hobbs, who confessed after a lengthy interrogation and then spent five years in jail awaiting trial for the killings before he was freed.
Testimony in the federal case showed semen recovered from Laura Hobbs' body and clothing tied Torrez to her fatal stabbing.
"This is no room for doubt," Trump said, "Jorge Torrez deserves to die."
In the federal case, Torrez instructed his three defense lawyers to say nothing on his behalf during his sentencing for the strangulation murder of Snell near the Pentagon in July 2009 when Torrez was a Marine.
Torrez's rampage in the Washington, D.C., area and the testimony about the Zion slayings cast an unflattering light on Lake County's justice system, which in recent years developed a reputation for securing false confessions, jailing seemingly innocent men and then failing to relent when their cases were contradicted by forensic evidence. Jerry Hobbs is one of four men who spent a total of 60 years behind bars before being cleared by DNA. Three of them had confessed after aggressive interrogations.
It had been known since 2007 that the DNA in the Zion killings didn't match Hobbs but Lake County prosecutors refused to free him for years, arguing the semen might be explained by the girls playing in a place where couples went for sex. Hobbs sat in jail until 2010, when the DNA allegedly linked Torrez to the crime after his arrest in Virginia in a string of attacks on women.
Between 2007 and 2010, authorities say Torrez killed Snell and committed the other Virginia assaults, which included a near-fatal sexual attack. He is currently serving five life sentences plus 168 years for those crimes.
In Virginia federal court this morning, jurors heard a closing argument from prosecutors before being excused to deliberate. The argument, lasting about 25 minutes, began when the prosecutor arranged for a courtroom monitor to display six color photographs of Torrez’s alleged victims.
Trump mentioned their names repeatedly in describing a purported crime spree that spanned two states and lasted almost five years, speaking of abductions, rape, sodomy, strangulation and stabbings.
The prosecutor showed a graphic image to the jurors: photos of the bodies of Tobias and Laura Hobbs, their limbs askew on a grassy patch of the thickly wooded parkland. Torrez said he knifed the girls in the neck to stop them from screaming, according to testimony from the jailhouse informant.
Torrez, who was neatly dressed in a suit jacket, shirt, tie and slacks in earlier court appearances, chose today to wear forest green jailhouse clothing over a long-sleeved T-shirt. The judge questioned him about the choice, but indicated that he felt the jury had heard enough about his criminal history to understand that he was imprisoned.
Torrez, looking sullen, entered the courtroom just after 8 a.m. Chicago time. His only remarks were, "Yes, your honor," when Judge Liam O'Grady asked a few questions of him.
The jurors’ decision was unanimous. O'Grady told jurors today that he is obligated by law to abide by their decision in sentencing Torrez. The judge set a sentencing date of May 30.
The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003, and a long appeals process likely would follow. As of September 2013, there were 59 inmates on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. In the last 25 years, the federal government has executed three people, one of whom was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Torrez is being represented by three taxpayer-paid lawyers.
One of his lawyers, Robert Lee Jenkins, Jr., said in an interview before the verdict he expected a quick decision.
He said the jury didn’t hear what defense lawyers were poised to present: that prison would have been suitable for Torrez in light of its strict restrictions on prisoners' interactions with other people. In light of Torrez's age, Jenkins said, a life sentence might mean five decades behind bars, which the lawyer said would be sufficient punishment.
He said Torrez has told lawyers what fate he desires, but he was prohibiting from disclosing that. He said, though, that recordings of Torrez speaking to a jailhouse informant gave a clear indication of the defendant’s desire. Jenkins said Torrez told the informant, convicted felon Osama El-Atari, that if he didn't get the death penalty, he "would kill a correctional officer so that he would be given the death penalty."
The attorney also said a potential death penalty recommendation, as a matter of routine, would be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which is based in Richmond, Va. Jenkins, who has handled several death penalty cases, said regardless of what that appellate court decides, death penalty sentences go to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court may or may not agree to review it.
Jenkins said he did not think any of Torrez's relatives attended today’s court proceeding, though some attended earlier portions of the trial. He said the family, which lived in Zion, was poor.Copyright © 2015, CT Now