SAN JOSE, Calif. - UPDATE: 12/12/2017 3:05 p.m. CBS SF- Antolin Garcia-Torres, the man convicted of kidnapping and killing Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar, was sentenced by a judge to life without the possibility of parole Tuesday afternoon.
The judge in the case followed the jury recommendation with the sentence.
During the day-long sentencing hearing, defense attorney Al Lopez hammered away at lead police investigator Herman Leon, trying to convince Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vanessa Zecher that Leon had tainted evidence in the case and that Torres deserved a new trial.
But after Leon was subjected to more than hour of grilling cross examination, Zecher ruled against a new trial.
Meanwhile, LeMar’s parents sat in the front row, holding up giant photos of their murdered daughter.
“I hope the rest of your life will be a living hell, Sierra’s father Steve LaMar said at one point while addressing the convicted killer.
Garcia-Torres, 26, was convicted in May of first-degree murder for the 15-year-old girl’s death and the attempted kidnappings of three women in 2009.
The sentencing, which was originally scheduled to take place in September, was delayed as the court considered a challenge from the defense to remove Zecher from the case.
Garcia-Torres and his attorneys claimed that a conflict existed between Zecher and lead investigator Herman Leon — a Santa Clara County Sheriff’s sergeant — as she represented him as deputy county counsel in a previous civil lawsuit in 1991.
Zecher was the legal representative for Leon and other Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies in a suit 27 years ago that alleged Leon played a role in the death of Jeffrey Leonti, a mentally ill inmate, when he worked at the county’s main jail as a guard.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge denied the motion to remove Zecher and a request for a new trial in November.
The penalty phase of the trial began May 16, a week after Garcia-Torres was found guilty of the missing teen’s murder.
A jury decided not to hand Garcia-Torres the death penalty in June, sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jurors deliberated for around eight hours before deciding on the sentence for Garcia-Torres.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Garcia-Torres while his defense attorneys presented sympathetic evidence about the abuse, poverty and neglect his family endured as he grew up in order to sway jurors to give him a life sentence.
Garcia-Torres’ father, an alcoholic who sexually abused a female relative from age 5 to 14 while Garcia-Torres was growing up, is serving a life sentence at Salinas Valley State Prison.
Sierra’s body has not been found since she missed her bus to Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill on March 16, 2012.
The verdict in the lengthy murder trial of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar came back guilty Tuesday morning for first-degree murder and kidnapping. Antolin Garcia-Torres was also found guilty of the attempted kidnappings of three women in Safeway Parking lots in 2009.
Garcia-Torres’ family was silent when they left the Hall of Justice in San Jose after a jury found the 26-year-old guilty of murder, but as one family awaits the life or death penalty phase, Sierra Lamar's family says they are thankful for justice.
"We are grateful to the jurors for coming up with right decision,” said Sierra's mother, Marlene LaMar, outside of the courthouse after the verdict was announced. “It gives us peace as a family knowing that this is not going to happen to another child."
The jury concluded beyond a reasonable reasonable doubt that Garcia-Torres kidnapped and killed Sierra, who vanished on her way to school in March of 2012. Her body was never found.
"This is a long time coming. It's bittersweet. We don't have Sierra but justice is served for us here today, justice for Sierra,” said Steve LaMar, Sierra's father.
Following a full day of deliberations by the jury, the verdict was read in a packed courtroom. KION’s Paul Dudley was in a standing-room-only overflow room where people cheered after the verdict was read. Cameras were not allowed inside the court, but outside of the courtroom Steve LaMar said that while he was pleased with the verdict but added that, it doesn't take away the pain.
"Grief like this will never go away, so just knowing that there will never be closure," he said Steve LaMar.
Lawyers for Garcia-Torres, who were not available to comment, used the defense that the DNA evidence against their client was faulty and that Sierra was a runaway. The prosecution said that though the body and crime scene were never discovered, DNA evidence was found on Sierra's pants, inside of Garcia-Torres' car and on his work gloves.
Following the verdict, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney, David Boyd, didn't say much because of the upcoming pending penalty phase of the trial. He did say “we felt very confident about the evidence we had,” adding, “that same jury held him (Garcia-Torres) responsible for the attacks on three women in the Safeway parking lot (s) back in 2009.”
The penalty phase of the trial, during which the jury will consider whether or not Garcia Garcia-Torres will get the death penalty or face life in prison without the possibility of parole, is set to begin on Tuesday, May 16th at 9 a.m. May 16.