A former Marine convicted last month of strangling a fellow service member at an Arlington military base was formally sentenced to death Friday in federal district court in Alexandria.
The result was no surprise. Jurors had already recommended that 25-year-old Jorge Torrez face capital punishment for the 2009 killing of 20-year-old Navy Petty Officer Amanda Jean Snell, and U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady was bound by law to impose the penalty. He did so after a minutes-long hearing, saying Torrez had committed “unconscionable crimes” and no errors had been committed to invalidate the outcome of his trial.
Torrez confirmed with the judge that he planned to appeal the case — though he did so only after sighing deeply and asking for a moment to confer with his attorneys. He declined the judge’s invitation to speak on his own behalf.
“There’s nothing I’d like to say, your honor,” he said just before O’Grady imposed the sentence.
Torrez will join six other inmates from Virginia cases on federal death row, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which tracks death-penalty cases nationwide. Torrez’s execution, though, is far from imminent. The post-sentence legal process generally takes years, and according to the center, no federal inmate from Virginia has been put to death since 1927, which is as far back as the group’s database tracks.
Prosecutors said Torrez, who lived doors away from Snell at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, crept into the woman’s room as she slept and strangled her with a laptop cord. Her body was found stuffed into a locker.
At his April trial, prosecutors said Torrez was a predator who browsed Internet sites about rape fantasies. Snell, they said, appeared to be victimized at random.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trump told jurors that Torrez “deserves to die.”
Torrez was convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying, and in recommending he face the death penalty, jurors agreed with prosecutors’ characterization of him as a sexual predator who would continue to be a threat behind bars. As part of their deliberations, those jurors considered Torrez’s convictions and multiple life sentences stemming from random attacks on women in Virginia, and they decided that Torrez was responsible for the 2005 slayings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, in Zion, Ill.
DNA linked him to that case and forced prosecutors to drop charges they had brought against Hobbs’s father. Torrez has yet to stand trial in Illinois.
Robert Jenkins, one of Torrez’s attorneys, said after the hearing Friday that his client denies killing Snell, but “if his only two sentencing choices were life imprisonment or death, he preferred death.” Torrez had instructed his attorneys to offer no defense as prosecutors sought the death penalty.
The case next moves to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
Jurors in the Eastern District of Virginia rarely impose the death penalty, even in the infrequent instances 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 they instead be sentenced to life in prison.