Jorge Torrez casually and repeatedly told a jailhouse informant that he did not feel bad for stabbing two young girls and leaving their bodies in an Illinois park near his house. When the informant talked of the injustice of police charging the father of one of the girls with the killings, Torrez chuckled.
Federal prosecutors in Virginia described those slayings this week as they tried to convince jurors that Torrez, a 25-year-old former Marine, deserves to be sentenced to death in another killing — that of a fellow service member whom Torrez strangled in her room at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
Torrez was found guilty earlier this month of first-degree murder in the 2009 death of Amanda Jean Snell, 20, on the Arlington County military base. He has been convicted of random attacks of other women and has been charged — but not convicted — in the girls’ deaths.
On Wednesday, prosecutors used his own words against him, playing recorded conversations in which Torrez told a jailhouse informant that he felt no guilt for killing an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old in his home town of Zion, Ill.
“Does a lion feel remorse when it kills a hyena?” Torrez asked the informant during the taped conversation.
“You don’t feel bad?” the informant asked during another conversation.
“Nope,” Torrez responded.
“At all?” the informant asked again.
“Nope,” Torrez repeated.
Jurors have already decided that the ex-Marine is legally eligible for the death penalty in Snell’s slaying but now must decide whether they will actually impose it. On Wednesday, prosecutors rested their case. They’ll return Thursday to deliver their closing argument.
“When you look at the crime, and you look at this criminal, it’s appropriate in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Fahey said in court.
Torrez ordered his attorneys to put on no defense, and they have sat silently — offering no arguments and cross-examining no one — throughout the penalty phase of the proceedings.
Much of the case has focused on the Mother’s Day 2005 killings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9. Police had initially charged Hobbs’s father but dropped those charges after Torrez’s DNA was matched to a sample found on Laura Hobbs’s clothing.
An Illinois forensic pathologist testified Wednesday that Hobbs was stabbed 20 times — including once in each eye — and Tobias 11 times in a wooded area of a park near Torrez’s house. Torrez himself told a jailhouse informant — a convicted fraudster named Osama El-Atari — that he used a three-inch knife and made no effort to hide the bodies.
But as disturbing as his admission, perhaps, was Torrez’s attitude about the killings. Torrez denied feeling any sort of guilt, although he suggested at one point that he killed the girls because they had witnessed him engaging in some type of drug activity. He was cavalier about the fact that police had charged the wrong man, Hobbs’s father. At one point, he said his reaction to that was simply, “I ain’t got nothing to worry about.” Another time, he laughed.
Jurors did not hear from Hobbs’s father. But Alberto Segura, Krystal Tobias’s brother, testified that Torrez, a former friend, called him after he had been linked to Tobias’s slaying and denied having done it.
“I ended it with, ‘Well, you got this. You didn’t do anything, you should be fine, and DNA doesn’t lie,’” Segura testified. “And this is where we’re at now.”
Jurors in the Eastern District of Virginia rarely impose the death penalty, even in the infrequent instances that prosecutors seek it. Most recently, prosecutors sought the death penalty for three Somali pirates convicted in the fatal shootings of four Americans on a yacht off the coast of Africa, but jurors recommended that they instead be sentenced to life in prison.
The last time a jury in the Eastern District recommended death was in 2009 for a man named David Runyon, who was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot in Newport News. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death-penalty cases nationwide, Virginia has six inmates on federal death row.
Torrez’s case, though, might be persuasive. Prosecutors have cast him as a sexual predator, one who browsed Internet sites about rape fantasies. In a recording, he is heard trying to hatch a plan with El-Atari to intimidate the women he attacked in Arlington so they would not testify, though he eventually was convicted and sentenced in the incidents in 2010.
Jurors also will be allowed to consider the impact of Snell’s death on her family and friends, who have poured into court to testify about the loving, ambitious, hardworking young woman. Snell, her friends and co-workers have testified, volunteered with youths at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Alexandria, quickly rose through the ranks in her intelligence job at the Pentagon and dreamed of a career of helping children, particularly those with special needs.