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Former Marine sentenced to die in sailor's slaying

Apr. 24, 2014 - 07:52PM   |  
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Jorge Torrez (AP)

ALEXANDRIA, VA. — A former Marine was sentenced to death Thursday for murdering a fellow service member in 2009, after a federal jury concluded he had been responsible for a series of violent, sexually motivated attacks on women and young girls over the last nine years.

The jury deliberated for less than four hours before sentencing Jorge Torrez, 25, of Zion, Ill., to death for the murder of Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, a Las Vegas native, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, in a barracks where both lived a few doors down from each other.

On the verdict form, the jury also unanimously concluded that Torrez also killed two young girls — 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias — in 2005 in his hometown of Zion, when he was just 16.

After Torrez was found guilty earlier this month of Snell’s murder, Torrez ordered his lawyers not to put on any defense or question the government’s case during the trial’s sentencing phase. On Thursday, during closing arguments in the morning and when the verdict was read in the afternoon, Torrez sat impassively in front of the jury in his green jail jumpsuit, forgoing the civilian clothes he has worn all trial.

His lawyer, Robert Jenkins, left little doubt that Torrez preferred a death sentence to life in prison, though he would not directly confirm it.

“My client certainly had a goal, and I think in his mind, he achieved that goal, and I think he welcomed it,” Jenkins said. “It wasn’t as much a trial as it was an assisted suicide.”

During Thursday’s closing arguments, prosecutor James Trump emphasized to the jury that Snell’s murder was far from his only crime. The Illinois girls’ murders were especially brutal — jurors saw gruesome photos of Hobbs’ body with stab wounds to the eyes that medical experts concluded occurred while she was still alive. Semen found on Hobbs was linked by DNA evidence to Torrez.

And in 2010, Torrez committed a series of stalking attacks on three women in northern Virginia, including one who was raped, choked and left for dead. It was Torrez’s arrest in those cases that helped investigators tie him to Snell’s murder and the Illinois slayings. He is already serving a life sentence for the Arlington attacks.

Until his arrest in Virginia, Trump told jurors, Torrez believed he had literally gotten away with murder.

But Torrez bragged about the killings to another inmate after his arrest in the Arlington attacks, and prosecutors played recordings of those confessions to the jury in which he laughed about the killings and showed no remorse.

Trump reminded jurors that Torrez bragged about being “an army of one” while preying on defenseless children.

“There’s no room for doubt. Jorge Torrez deserves to die,” Trump said.

Torrez is the first person since 2007 to be sentenced to death at the federal courthouse in Alexandria. Torrez will join 59 other prisoners on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Torrez will be formally sentenced May 30. The judge, Liam O’Grady, does not have the option to change the death sentence, unless he finds some sort of legal error.

The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003. Jenkins said that some of the usual appellate steps in a capital case will be carried out whether Torrez acquiesces to them or not. Other appeals, Jenkins said, are voluntary, so the length of the appeals process could be shortened considerably if Torrez maintains his current stance.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said it is highly unusual among the federal death row inmates to have a defendant who does not fight to stop his execution. Dieter said Torrez’s stance “creates a lot of unknowns” but agreed that it could result in a dramatically shorter appeals process.

Just because an inmate wants to be executed, though, doesn’t mean it will happen automatically, Dieter said. Legal challenges, such as the constitutionality of the lethal injection process, can potentially affect all death-row inmates and not just those who have filed the challenge, he said.

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