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Guilty verdict in 2009 Virginia slaying of sailor

Jurors in Virginia Tuesday found Zion, Ill. native Jorge Torrez guilty of murdering a 20-year-old Navy sailor in the barracks building they shared in 2009, clearing the way for federal prosecutors to seek his execution.

Federal prosecutors plan to show the jurors who will decide Torrez's fate at sentencing evidence that he also killed two young girls in Zion, Ill., in 2005. After allegedly killing the girls, Torrez walked free for five years while Lake County authorities blamed the father of one of the girls and insisted on his guilt even after DNA indicated his innocence. Prosecutors say Torrez, a former Marine, killed Snell and raped and abducted another woman while Jerry Hobbs sat in jail awaiting trial in the girls' deaths.

Jurors deliberated Monday afternoon and for a few hours this morning before finding Torrez, 25, guilty of killing Amanda Snell, a Navy petty officer from Las Vegas, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty when sentencing starts April 21.

Virginia federal prosecutors accused Torrez of strangling Snell with her laptop cord "in order to obtain sexual gratification." Authorities had DNA evidence pointing to his guilt, according to court records.

Torrez' lawyers argued he wasn't responsible for Snell's death, and he has maintained his innocence of the other crimes of which he's been accused or convicted.

The same jury in Alexandria, Va., that heard the trial will decide on Torrez's punishment. The federal government has executed only three people in the last 25 years. One was Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim has said he plans to send a top deputy to watch the Virginia sentencing. The prosecutor hopes to try Torrez for the Zion killings promptly after the federal proceedings. 

Authorities allegedly linked Torrez by DNA to the Zion case after he was arrested and charged with rape and abduction in Virginia in 2010 in a case separate from the federal murder charge. He's now serving five life sentences plus 168 years for those crimes. Lake County prosecutors freed Hobbs in 2010 and charged Torrez with the Zion slayings in 2012.

Torrez's federal sentencing could focus heavily on the 2005 slayings of Krystal Tobias, 9, and Laura Hobbs, 8. Prosecutors plan to use exhibits including photos of the scene, the girls' autopsy reports, DNA evidence, pictures of knives and recorded clips of Torrez, court records show.

Immediately after the girl's bodies were found in a park in May 2005, detectives focused on Laura's father, Jerry. Authorities were suspicious of Hobbs' long criminal record and felt his grief seemed insincere. After some 24 hours of intermittent questioning, he confessed.

In 2007, DNA tests showed that semen found inside Laura's body didn't belong to her father. Prosecutors under former Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller insisted the DNA didn't indicate Hobbs' innocence because the semen could be explained by the girl playing in an area where couples went for sex. It was one of four cases in which his office continued to prosecute a defendant despite forensic evidence indicating his innocence. All of the cases have collapsed.

Hobbs sued Lake County authorities, settling for nearly $8 million.

dhinkel@tribune.com
 

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