Sierra LaMar murder and kidnapping suspect Antolin Garcia-Torres waived his right to appear in court today. Instead, attorneys representing the suspect asked that his plea hearing be postponed yet again as they subpoena cell phone records now under seal.
During a court hearing Tuesday morning in Department 23 of the San Jose Hall of Justice, Judge Jerome Nadler set the case's next hearing for August 29 at 2 p.m. for a possible plea entering, and for a so-called subpoena duces tecum hearing, or the production of evidence.
The brief proceeding, heavily attended by media and families and supporters of Sierra LaMar's family, lasted only a few minutes. Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney David Boyd declined to speak to reporters as he walked out of the courtroom.
Garcia-Torres is facing a charge of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping. Authorities believe the 21-year-old Morgan Hill resident kidnapped and murdered local teenager Sierra LaMar, 15, who was last seen the morning of March 16.
Criminal attorney and legal analyst Steven Clark, present during the proceeding, explained that the defense has subpoeaned Verizon cell phone records from the court, and that the prosecution wasn't made aware of that request, as required.
Boyd objected to their release. The matter could be heard during the next court date, Clark said, adding that the prosecution will now review those records.
Asked about the continuing plea delay, Clark said there's a mountain of evidence to go over, not just about Garcia-Torres, but about the way the investigation was conducted, and attorneys need time to review those documents.
The plea triggers many timelines in the case, Clark said, and the defense wants to keep that in information in their pocket until they need it. He felt that was the reason a plea was not entered on Tuesday.
Clark feels the defense's maneuver not to bring Garcia-Torres into the courtroom is an interesting turn in the case. "That suggests they're satisfied with his presentation at the last court date. Knowing that this is heavily covered, they don't want additional video of their client presented."
Regarding the length of time the defense exercise without entering a plea, Clark said the judge will give Garcia-Torres' attorneys a lot of latitude in the case. "There's a recognition that this is a huge investigation that is continuing, is very fluid," he said. "The judge will give them all the time they need."
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office filed a criminal complaint against Garcia-Torres based on .
Santa Clara County Deputy Alternate Public Defender Traci Owens was assigned to represent Garcia-Torres after the suspect’s previous defense attorney, Ken Mandel, . Due to the change in defense attorneys, the judge will also allow time for Garcia-Torres' new legal counsel to properly prepare for the case. "I wouldn't be surprised to see this delayed again [on Aug. 29]," Clark said.
Garcia-Torres appeared in court on May 31. Instead of entering a plea on the charge of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping, he .
Meanwhile, dozens of Sierra LaMar searchers attended the hearing, many wearing T-shirts with a black-and-white photo of the missing teen, the words "Keep Hope Alive" emblazoned on them.
Debbie Nunes said she lives close to Marlene LaMar's home in Morgan Hill and has been faithfully participating in searches for the missing teen along with about 70 volunteers, the numbers dwindling from between 600 and 800 searchers when the teen was first reported missing in March.
"I'm here to support the family. I'll continue to search and come out to all the court dates," Nunes said. "I have children. I'm a mother and every day we drive by the bus stop where she was supposed to be that morning."
Similarly, Kelly Bessette said as a mother she felt a need to show support and provide continued prayers for Sierra's return.
Attending the hearing Tuesday was Garcia-Torres' mother and two sisters, who declined to speak to reporters. Sierra's mother Marlene did not attend the hearing, as she was away with daughter Danielle on a family trip, according to a close friend.
Sierra's father Steve LaMar, who lives in Fremont, was also not present during the hearing.
Regina DiMaggio, another friend of the LaMar's family, said she's been offering support through a ribbon tribute program to help families facing loss of their loved ones through tragic cases such as murders and disappereances.
She said she began her project with the Laci Peterson murder in 2002.
"We decided as a family to help them [Laci's family] by offering a ribbon tribute that went nationwide over 50 states ... that was a small way of support for families with missing children... "
After the tribute, families contacted DiMaggio online and asked her to do this for them to help them keep their hope alive. "It's a way to show support while they're waiting for their loved one to come home," DiMaggio said.
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