Sierra LaMar murder and kidnapping suspect Antolin Garcia-Torres is scheduled to appear in court at 2 p.m. Sept. 26 in Department 23 of the San Jose Hall of Justice to once again possibly enter a plea.
A hearing on Aug. 29 continued the proceedings, with his appearance waived just as was done on July 31, according to Santa Clara County prosecutor David Boyd.
Garcia-Torres waived arraignment—the advisement of the charges brought against him—in May, and then on July 31 and Aug. 29 he didn't appear in court. He's been appointed Santa Clara County Public Defender Traci Owens to represent him.
"They are very standard, routine ... it happens all the time in criminal cases," Boyd said after explaining the reasons for the delay in the plea entering. "It's on for entry of plea [on Sept. 26] ... where he'll either say guilty, which is highly unlikely, or not guilty."
Boyd said prosecutors have not yet decided whether they'll seek the death penalty for Garcia-Torres, 21, accused of kidnapping and murdering local teenager Sierra LaMar, 15, who was last seen March 16 on her way to catch the morning bus to Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill. "I'm not prepared to talk about this right now," Boyd said. "I'm not in charge of the death penalty protocol. I'm not prepared to answer that question."
The prosecutor said the plea-entering hearing will most likely be delayed many times as Garcia-Torres' attorney need time.
Criminal attorney and legal analyst Steven Clark, who's been present during the proceedings, explained the plea triggers many timelines in the case. Once entered, Garcia-Torres can either "waive time," or not, which means the preliminary hearing could take place 10 days after the entering of the plea.
Clark said the defense could try to get a quick prelminary hearing by delaying the entering of the plea and then getting the preliminary hearing 10 days after such motion. "You don't want to enter a plea until you have to," Clark said.
Presiding Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler is also not going to force the defense to enter the plea, allowing the defense to continue as long as practical considering that the case is quite complicated and that the voluminous investigation is ongoing, Clark explained.
Unlike judges in other counties who will ask for a plea by a certain time, Judge Nadler will not require the defense to enter the plea by a specific date, he noted.
"They [the defense] could go on for several more months," Clark said. "This is just a monumental investigation. This is not a routine murder case. It's a very complicated case in which there are multiple levels of the investigation ... This case is far from being resolved because they're still looking for the body."
Clark indicated the public defender will also want to discuss other issues with Garcia-Torres such as mental health matters before entering a plea.
When the plea is entered, Boyd will have to prove during the preliminary hearing that Garcia-Torres by a "reasonable sufficient standard" committed the crime. "The DA will have to put on enough evidence to hold the defendant to answer for trial that's not beyond a reasonable doubt," Clark said.
About the death penalty, Clark said the DA's Office has a group of senior prosecutors who would review such a request should it be warranted and possible to obtain.
One of the factors in whether prosecutors would pursue capital punishment is input from the victim's family because as soon as it's sought, the case could go on for decades before a final resolution due to appeals. "A lot of families don't want to have that lingering kind of litigation ... ," Clark said.
Garcia-Torres, who lived with his mother, pregnant girlfriend and child a few miles away from LaMar's home on Maple Leaf RV Park on Monterey Road, is being held at the Santa Clara County Jail without bail.
Searches for LaMar continue all over South County on Saturdays, with Wednesday searches recently discontinued.
County sheriff's investigators allege Garcia-Torres' DNA was found on the girl's clothing and her DNA found in the suspect's Volkswagen Jetta. He was arrested May 21 at Tennant Avenue and Monterey Road in Morgan Hill outside the Safeway store where he was formerly employed.