The Washington Post

Jurors to weigh whether ex-Marine should be executed

Jurors in federal district court in Alexandria have concluded that a former U.S. Marine who killed a fellow service member at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is legally allowed to be executed for his crime.

After hearing presentations from federal prosecutors, jurors on Monday determined that 25-year-old Jorge Torrez, who was convicted earlier this month of first-degree murder in the 2009 death of 20-year-old Amanda Jean Snell, is eligible for the death penalty.

Curiously, Torrez’s defense attorneys made no arguments on his behalf, and a judge told jurors that Torrez had instructed them not to.

Determining whether Torrez is eligible to be executed is one phase in the death penalty process; jurors so far weighed only whether the case meets a series of technical requirements that would allow the former Marine to be executed. They have not decided, yet, whether they actually want to impose the penalty that prosecutors have sought.

Prosecutor Robert Heberle argued that there was “overwhelming evidence” to show Torrez’s eligibility.

Jorge Torrez

“George Torrez is a calculating, methodical sexual predator,” he told jurors Monday.

Jurors in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Torrez was convicted, 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.

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 crime, though, was heinous enough — and his victim sympathetic enough — to make the death penalty a possibility.

Prosecutors said Torrez attacked Snell at random, creeping into her room at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and wrapping the young woman’s neck with the power cord of her pink laptop. They said Torrez is a sexual predator who browsed Internet sites about rape fantasies and randomly attacked other women in Arlington after Snell’s death. He was convicted and sentenced in those incidents in 2010.

Snell, who grew up in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Las Vegas, was known among family members for her outgoing nature and “infectious personality,” said Denise Alexander, her aunt. Alexander said that Snell volunteered helping autistic children and hoped to make a career of it when she had finished her Navy service.

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Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.

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