Jurors who will decide whether Jorge Torrez should be executed for killing a sailor in 2009 will hear more evidence Wednesday tying him to the stabbing deaths of two young girls in Zion in 2005, brutal killings that were followed by a troubled investigation.
Torrez, 25, who was a Marine when he strangled the sailor in her barracks near the Pentagon, is a “calculating, methodical sexual predator,” prosecutors say.
He avoided suspicion after the Mother’s Day killings of Laura Hobbs, 8, and her best friend, Krystal Tobias, 9, nine years ago although Torrez knew Tobias and associates have testified that he kept a collection of knives and a Ninja star. He was 16 years old then.
Instead, Hobbs’ father, Jerry Hobbs, confessed to the crime – falsely, authorities now say – following questioning that stretched across 24 hours.
With the father behind bars, Torrez was blamed for the girls’ killings only after Virginia authorities took a DNA sample from him after his arrest for separate predatory crimes against women — and the genetic fingerprint linked him to the killings in his hometown, Zion.
Previewing what is to emerge Wednesday, federal prosecutors have said Torrez laughed when he described to a jailhouse informant how he killed the girls, stabbing Laura Hobbs in both eyes. He also laughed about how the wrong person, her father, had been charged, they said.
Jerry Hobbs is not expected to testify in Virginia, where jurors are considering whether Torrez should be put to death or sent to prison for the rest of his life for the first-degree murder of the 20-year-old sailor.
But on Tuesday, the father’s haunting moans were heard in court when prosecutors replayed a 911 call to Zion police made by Laura Hobbs’ grandfather, Arthur Hollabaugh. The father and grandfather were in the park searching for the missing girls, part of a large-scale community search.
First the grandfather called 911 to say the men had come across Laura Hobbs’ bicycle, which the two girls were riding together. Minutes later, Hollabaugh said, “Jerry started screaming that he found the girls and they were dead.”
“I told him, ‘No, they’re not,’ “ Hollabaugh said, weeping from the witness stand.
The gruesome reality soon came into focus for the grandfather, who called 911 again. “We found the girls’ bodies. They’re over here. They’re both dead,” he reported. The sound of crying and moaning in the background was from Jerry Hobbs, Hollabaugh told jurors.
As Torrez looked on, jurors also saw color photos of the two lifeless girls, their limbs askew. Judge Liam O’Grady had cautioned jurors they were about to see “disturbing” images.
Jurors also heard from Kent Ashton, who lived in Zion, was an elementary school principal with the Gurnee School District and was out in Beulah Park the day of the killings.
Ashton, now a principal in Mesa, Ariz., said he saw two girls, about 8 or 9 years old, sharing a bicycle, enjoying the weather and conversing. He said he saw them again standing with the bike as he was leaving the park and they were talking to a “gentleman” who looked to about 15 years old.
Ashton indicated that as an educator, he was concerned about the age difference. “The appearance didn’t click with me,” he said, but the girls did not seem “in any type of distress.”
He said the teenaged boy had darker skin, dark hair and very dark eyes. He also said that after he heard about the slain girls on the news, he contacted the Zion Police Department to tell authorities what he had seen.
Another witness, Zion chiropractor Brent Paxton, testified that he had heard a girl’s scream in the park the day the girls were killed. He called it “a moderate scream — a boy-chasing-a-girl type of scream.” He also said he later saw an abandoned bike, but thought its owner might have been “taking a bathroom break.”
The same jury that will decide Torrez’s punishment found him guilty on April 8 of killing the sailor, Amanda Jean Snell, in 2009.
During the penalty phase of the case, Torrez has told his defense attorneys not to make any statements, call any witnesses or cross-examine government witnesses, his attorneys said. The judge urged Torrez on Tuesday to reconsider.
Torrez has yet to be tried in Lake County for the girls’ killings. It emerged in 2007 that DNA from the scene did not belong to Jerry Hobbs, but Lake County prosecutors insisted on his guilt until the DNA match to Torrez in 2010.