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February 24, 2021

Garcia Torres’ plea hearing postponed to Aug. 29

Antolin Garcia Torres’ appearance in court was waived for his hearing in San Jose Tuesday, and the judge scheduled an Aug. 29 court date to discuss the murder suspect’s request for unspecified records from Verizon that could be related to the disappearance of Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar. 

Garcia Torres, 21 of Morgan Hill, who is accused of kidnapping and killing the 15-year-old sometime between the morning of March 16 and his arrest May 21, was represented by his attorney from the Santa Clara County alternate defender’s office and did not appear at the hearing at the Santa Clara County Hall of Justice in San Jose Tuesday.  His attorney did not enter a plea on Garcia Torres’ behalf, though the proceeding was scheduled as a plea hearing. 

Garcia Torres is scheduled to enter a plea at the Aug. 29 hearing, at 2 p.m. He remains in custody at Santa Clara County Jail without bail. 

Prosecutors for the district attorney’s office and lawyers for Garcia Torres briefly discussed with Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler the rescheduling of the plea proceeding, and vaguely mentioned a records subpoena issued by the defendant. 

That subpoena was related to a records request to Verizon, a widely-used telecommunications service, according to Santa Clara County deputy district attorney David Boyd. He said he did not know exactly what records were requested in the subpoena. 

A defense attorney and legal analyst who is not involved with the case said outside the courthouse that the D.A.’s office was not notified of the defense subpoena before Tuesday’s hearing, but it seemed to be merely an “oversight.” 

The analyst, Steven Clark, who attended the hearing, added that the court and attorneys are unlikely to publicly specify what Verizon records were requested until future hearings, and he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see even the Aug. 29 plea hearing continued again. 

“The more information that comes out (before the trial), the more likely there will be a change of venue,” Clark said. 

He noted the subpoena is likely part of the defense investigation of the case, which is ongoing for both sides. 

Boyd added that attorneys in criminal cases are not always informed when a subpoena is issued by the other side, but in this instance the issue will be discussed at the next hearing. 

Garcia Torres’ attorney from the county’s alternate defender’s office, Alfonso Lopez, did not immediately return a phone call. 

The suspect’s mother, Laura Torres, and wife Francine attended Tuesday’s hearing. They left the courthouse afterwards surrounded by a group of unknown supporters, without speaking to the media. 

Garcia Torres is charged with murder, with a special circumstance of kidnapping in relation to Sierra’s disappearance. 

Sierra has been missing since March 16. Police think she was kidnapped that morning as she was walking from her mother’s home to her daily school bus stop near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues. 

She was a sophomore at Sobrato High School at the time of her disappearance. 

Investigators have not found Sierra’s body or a murder weapon. 

Detectives from the sheriff’s office and volunteers from Morgan Hill and surrounding areas continue to search for her remains or any clues indicating what happened to her. 

“We want closure for her,” said Renee Figueira of San Jose, a volunteer who has helped in the search efforts since shortly after Sierra’s disappearance. “We wish (Garcia Torres) would just tell us where she is.” 

While in the early days of the search hundreds of volunteers showed up for daily search efforts organized by Sierra’s family and the KlaasKids Foundation, Figueira said there remains a core group of about 40 volunteers who continue to search every Wednesday and Saturday. 

Other volunteers who attended Tuesday’s hearing brought T-shirts to the courthouse with an image of a flyer with Sierra’s picture printed on the front, but court security did not allow them to bring the garments inside the courtroom, according to volunteer David Benoit of Milpitas. 

“Everybody was told on the way in not to wear any Sierra regalia,” said Benoit, 50.

Benoit said the volunteers were not planning to wear the shirts inside the courtroom, but rather outside to display their support for the missing teen and her family. Authorities returned the T-shirts to the volunteers when the hearing was over, and Benoit and others wore them outside the courthouse. 

In addition to helping to search for Sierra, Benoit, 50, helps organize efforts “peripheral” to the search, such as a booth set up outside last weekend’s Gilroy Garlic Festival to raise awareness of the case and hand out flyers. 

When the volunteers asked festival organizers if they could set up the booth inside the festival, they were told that all the vendor spaces had been filled since March, Benoit said. In response, he organized an online petition, on the website, to convince the festival to allow the searchers to have a booth inside the event gates. 

As of Tuesday morning, the petition garnered about 280 signatures. 

“We want to show support for her family, and let (Garcia Torres) know there’s a community out here that is not going to accept this anymore,” said Benoit. 

Wearing a custom-made T-shirt showing support for Sierra, different from those donned by most of the other volunteers who remained outside the courthouse after Tuesday’s hearing, was Emma Spencer of San Jose, also a steadfast volunteer in the search effort. 

Spencer wore the T-shirt through courthouse security and into the courtroom Tuesday, and remained outside the building after the proceeding. The front of the T-shirt said in an ornamental cursive font, “Team Sierra” and “Never Giving Up.” The back of the garment said “Everyone’s Daughter.” 

She said the garment is intended to signify her and other volunteers’ continuing devotion to the search for Sierra. 

“We’re not going to give up hope,” said Spencer.  

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