Trial in Sierra LaMar disappearance tests ‘no-body’ murder cases
By Jenna Lyons, San Francisco Chronicle
January 16, 2017 Updated: January 16, 2017 5:13pm
A sign with a photo of missing teen Sierra LaMar is posted in Morgan Hill in April 2012. Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP
When Sierra LaMar left her Morgan Hill home one morning in 2012, there was no indication the 15-year-old was headed anywhere besides high school. At 7:11 a.m., around the time she typically headed to her bus stop, she texted a friend to make plans to meet up on campus.
That was the last time anyone heard from her. A day later, her phone was found in a field, while her discarded clothes, books and purse turned up a day after that. But as investigators became more firm in their belief that Sierra had been abducted and slain, they never found her body.
Undeterred, prosecutors will go to trial this week and ask a jury to convict a 25-year-old man of capital murder, saying the evidence against him is strong enough to win a conviction in what is often referred to as a “no-body” case.
Antolin Garcia-Torres appears in a Santa Clara County courtroom in 2012. Photo: Paul Sakuma, AP
They face a difficult challenge — needing to prove not only that the defendant was involved but that Sierra is in fact dead — but not an unprecedented or insurmountable one.
While nearly three decades have passed since a Santa Clara County jury sentenced a defendant to death with no body to be found, similar cases have been won more recently in the Bay Area and around the country.
“These are very much circumstantial cases where you’ll be pulling out many pieces of the picture and putting them together, but you’re not ever going to have all the pieces,” said Thomas “Tad” DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor who won a conviction in a “no-body” murder that happened in 2003 and later wrote a practical guide to trying such cases.
According to DiBiase, who keeps a database of hundreds of the cases going back to the 1800s, advancements in DNA technology and modern computing have allowed authorities to more frequently go to trial without bodies. The conviction rate at trial, he said, is nearly 90 percent.
Posted by Thomas A. (Tad) DiBiase, The No Body Guy