ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — An Illinois grandfather shook in the witness chair as he told jurors about discovering his 8-year-old granddaughter and her best friend dead from stab wounds in a park where they had been playing, an attack prosecutors say was committed by an ex-Marine now on trial for his life in another killing.
A jury in U.S. District Court heard testimony Tuesday linking the 2005 slayings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias to Jorge Torrez, a neighbor of the girls in their hometown of Zion, Ill., about an hour north of Chicago.
Torrez was convicted of first-degree murder earlier this month in the death of Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, a barracks-mate at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington. The jury must now decide whether Torrez will be executed or sentenced to life in prison.
In making their case for execution, the prosecutors in Virginia presented evidence linking Torrez to the girls' killings in Illinois. Torrez was only 16 when the girls were killed, and was friends with one of the girls' older brothers. Prosecutors say DNA from Torrez's semen was found on one of the girls' bodies, and that he also confessed to a jail mate that he stabbed the girls.
On Tuesday, Laura's grandfather, Arthur Hollabaugh, described the search for the girls that began on Mother's Day 2005 when Laura failed to come home from a day of play at a nearby park.
Hollabaugh searched the park with Laura's father, Jerry Hobbs, and found the girls the next day.
"I seen 'em laying there," Hollabaugh said, fighting back tears. "I called the police and said ... 'They're dead.'"
Police initially charged Jerry Hobbs with killing the girls. Hobbs gave what authorities now know to be a false confession shortly after the killings and undergoing a 20-hour interrogation.
Krystal's brother, Alberto Segura, now 24, had been friends with Torrez. He testified that Torrez called him from jail in 2010, after being arrested in a separate case. Torrez warned Segura that authorities and the media might soon be linking Torrez to the girls' deaths. Segura asked Torrez directly if he killed the girls. Torrez, after a long pause, denied it.
"I said, 'OK, I believe you,'" Segura testified.
It was Torrez's arrest in 2010 for a series of violent, stalking attacks on women in northern Virginia that gave authorities the DNA evidence that led back to Snell's killing in 2009 and the girls' slayings in 2005. Torrez is already serving life in prison for the stalking attacks. He has been charged in the girls' killing but has not yet been tried.
Prosecutors are expected to close their case Thursday. After Torrez was convicted of Snell's murder, he ordered his attorneys not to make any arguments on his behalf at sentencing, nor to cross-examine any government witnesses. Defense attorneys have declined to say whether Torrez prefers execution to a life sentence.
Torrez has ordered his lawyers not to fight prosecutors' case for execution.