Antolin Garcia-Torres' decision to at the Hall of Justice Thursday was the “right decision,” according to criminologist Steve Clark, an attorney who works as a legal analyst providing commentary on high-profile court cases.
“It would have been very risky to try and do this quickly,” Clark said. “He needs to study the DNA evidence and all the other information, and his lawyer needs to spend a lot more time with him before they decide what to do next.”
Garcia-Torres is believed to be responsible for the kidnapping and presumed murder of Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar, but is only being charged with one count of murder. Kidnapping has been added to the charge as a "special circumstance"—a decision that Clark says could backfire on the prosecution and send the suspect home free.
The reason Garcia-Torres could escape jail time is simply because the jury doesn’t have a fall-back position. If the jury doesn’t find Garcia-Torres guilty on the one count of murder, then its members don’t “get to the kidnapping” part, Clark said.
“Because there’s only one count, which is murder, they’ve alleged the kidnapping as a special circumstance, but it’s not an independent count at this point, so if they don’t believe he killed her but they believe he kidnapped her, then he would be found not guilty [of murder] and I don’t believe they can retry him again,” Clark said.
In order for Garcia Torres to remain behind bars despite the possibility of a jury reaching a non-guilty verdict, the prosecution would have to file a kidnapping charge, which is something they may not do because “they’ve gone all-in with murder in this case,” Clark said.
“Now they’ve made a strategy decision on that, and I think the reason they did that is they believe they have a strong case for murder and they don’t want the fallback of only kidnapping,” he said.
Clark also said the discovery of Sierra’s body could help the defense because it could serve as an alibi if the teen’s body is found in a location that the suspect has never been to, which authorities can verify by reviewing the GPS device that was secretly placed on Garcia-Torres’ car when authorities began 24-hour surveillance of him on March 28.
“If they believe he has gone back to the scene of the crime or he was associated with the scene of the body, then that’s going to hurt him, but if he’s never been there, then I’m sure the defense will argue that if he was guilty, he would have gone back or he would of checked on it,” Clark said. “The fact that he didn’t, that goes to his potential innocence.”
With the large amount of forensic evidence authorities have linking Garcia-Torres to Sierra’s disappearance, Clark said the case will ultimately come down to the battle of the experts: What are the defense’s forensic specialists saying about the evidence, verses what the prosecution’s forensic experts are saying.
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