Three years after the disappearance of Bay Area teen Sierra LaMar, her family is suspending their weekly search for the girl's remains, saying that “we’ve run out of viable search areas."
As you might recall, LaMar was last seen at her mother's house in unincorporated Morgan Hill on March 16, 2012. That morning, she headed to the intersection of Dougherty and Palm Avenues, west of Monterey Highway to catch her school bus, but never arrived at school.
Her purse and cell phone were discovered about three-quarters of a mile from her house the day after she disappeared, leading officials to believe that she was abducted, as opposed to a runaway.
Two months after her disappearance, Antolin Garcia-Torres, now aged 23, was arrested and charged with LaMar's kidnapping and murder after police found LaMar's DNA in his Volkswagen Jetta and his DNA on clothes belonging to LaMar discovered near the bus stop.
Police reportedly shadowed Garcia-Torres for weeks before they arrested him in hopes that he'd lead them to LaMar's body. Authorities say that they believe that Garcia-Torres, who did not know LaMar, was "driving a route he usually took on his way to work, saw Sierra from his Volkswagen Jetta, snatched her from a bus stop and killed her," the Chron reports.
According to KRON4, unsealed documents from Garcia-Torres' indictment also "indicate LaMar’s hair was found on a rope in the trunk of Garcia-Torres’ car."
Since her disappearance, Steve LaMar, Sierra’s father, has been leading Saturday searches of "waterways, lakes, trails and rugged country throughout the region," but hasn't been able to find her remains.
“We’ve run out of viable search areas,” he told news outlets, and though “If we get any information or tips, it’ll be more of an on-call kind of search mode,” the last weekly search will be Saturday, March 14.
Of course, without LaMar's body, the prosecution will have an uphill battle to convict Garcia-Torres of murder. But it's not impossible — consider the case of Hans Reiser, the Oakland man accused of killing his wife after her September, 2006 disappearance. Reiser was successfully convicted of first-degree murder, despite his repeated assertions that he was innocent throughout the case. His lawyer then arranged a do-over, and he was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder if he led authorities to her body, which he eventually did.
Could Santa Clara County prosecutors be similarly successful? Legal analyst Steve Clark, who spoke with the Chron, isn't so sure. "The defense could argue that after three years without a body, Sierra could simply be a missing person and not a homicide victim," they report.
“That’s going to play into their missing-person scenario, that the reason her body hasn’t been found is because there’s no body to find,” Clark says.
Garcia-Torres is due back in court on April 8, but a date for his trial has yet to be set. According to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office, they will be seeking the death penalty in this case.