Arlington rape suspect's DNA linked to slayings of 2 Illinois girls in 2005

By Tom Jackman and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 9, 2010

An ex-Marine from Illinois who is charged in Arlington County in a kidnapping and rape in February is now the chief suspect in the 2005 slayings of two young girls from his home town, sources familiar with the investigation said Thursday.

The father of one of the girls has been in jail for five years awaiting trial in both killings. Prosecutors in Lake County, Ill., are seeking the death penalty for Jerry B. Hobbs, 39, in the case, even though his DNA does not match semen found at the crime scene.

Hobbs discovered the bodies of his daughter, Laura, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in a park in Zion, Ill., near the Wisconsin border, on May 9, 2005. Lake County police said Hobbs told them that he killed the girls, but he has since said his statement was coerced. A judge has ruled that the statement can be entered into evidence in his capital murder trial in October.

But on June 25, the DNA from the crime scene found a match in the national DNA data bank, Lake County prosecutors said this week. The match is to a DNA sample taken from Jorge "George" Torrez, a 21-year-old ex-Marine who was stationed at Fort Myer until his arrest in Arlington in February, law enforcement sources said.

In 2003, Virginia became the first state to take DNA samples from suspects as soon as they are arrested, rather than after conviction. The DNA taken from Torrez at the Arlington jail was entered into the national data bank. Seventeen other states have since followed Virginia's lead to varying degrees -- Virginia takes samples only from people arrested in violent felonies -- and President Obama said recently that he would like to see the arrest sampling expanded to all 50 states.

Investigators from Lake County have since traveled to Arlington to take another DNA sample from Torrez, which detectives typically do to confirm the data bank match, and are having that tested in Illinois, a law enforcement source said Thursday. The source was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Torrez is awaiting trial on a host of felony charges related to two incidents in Arlington. Police say he tried to force a woman into a car at gunpoint on Feb. 10 on North Quincy Street. The woman escaped. He is also accused of ordering two women into their house at gunpoint on North Wakefield Street on Feb. 27 and then taking one of them with him to his car. Four hours later, the woman was found along Minnieville Road in Prince William County, having been severely beaten, raped and choked into unconsciousness, police said.

Torrez, who was living at Henderson Hall on Fort Myer, was arrested that night as he tried to drive from the base.

An Arlington police officer had spotted a silver Dodge Durango driving suspiciously during a blizzard and jotted down the license plate. When the rape victim described the Durango, it matched the description of the vehicle used in the Feb. 10 case, records state. When police found the Durango outside Henderson Hall, it was streaked in mud, which police said led them to think that it was the vehicle used to drive into the woods where the rape victim had been left facedown in the snow.

Torrez lived in Zion, and after graduating from high school there in 2006, he joined the Marine Corps, his sister Sara Torrez told The Washington Post in February. She said he served two years in Okinawa, Japan, and then moved to Northern Virginia last year and was working at the Pentagon at the time of his arrest.

She told reporters in Chicago this week that her family's home in Zion had been searched by Lake County police, who told her that they were investigating the deaths of the two children. The Torrez home is within blocks of the victims' homes, and Sara Torrez told the Chicago Tribune that her brother was friends with Krystal Tobias's older brother.

"We do not believe for one minute that he is guilty," Sara Torrez told the Tribune. "We believe he is being set up by the Marines."

Torrez was discharged from the Marines in April, a Marine spokesman said Thursday.

Jason Rucker, Torrez's attorney in Arlington, declined to comment on the case.

On Tuesday, Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Jeff Pavletic revealed in court that a DNA match had been made and that the homicide investigation was being reopened. He did not identify the suspect and did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller, who called the girls' slayings "the most horrific crime" he had seen, said in 2005 that Hobbs wasn't a suspect until he responded oddly to questions. The Tribune has reported that Waller's office is pursuing three cases in which DNA excludes the defendant, including Hobbs's case. Prosecutors have said that semen on one of the slain girls may have been picked up as she played in the woods, where some couples have sex.

Hobbs, whose family has supported his claims of innocence since his arrest, had a string of petty arrests in Texas, including one in 2001 in which he was arrested after chasing residents of a trailer park with a chain saw. He was placed on probation and moved to Illinois, but he violated probation in 2004 and was ordered to serve 18 months in prison. He was released in April 2005, less than a month before his daughter's death. He had three children with his longtime girlfriend, Sheila Hollabaugh.

"We've said consistently, from the inception of this case, that Jerry Hobbs is innocent," his attorney, assistant public defender Keith Grant, said Thursday. "We are certainly optimistic that this development will result in the release of Mr. Hobbs and allow him to grieve the death of his daughter."

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