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updated: 5/30/2014 7:24 PM

Suspect in Zion murders sentenced to death in Virginia

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  • Jorge Torrez

      Jorge Torrez

Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- An ex-Marine on Friday was sentenced to death for the 2009 murder of a Navy sailor at a barracks in northern Virginia.

The sentencing of Jorge Torrez, 25, of Zion was a formality. A jury last month decided unanimously to impose the death penalty for the murder of Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Amanda Snell, 20, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. Federal law gave U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady no option to deviate from the jury's decision.

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It was only the second time the sentence has been imposed at the federal courthouse in Alexandria since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988. The last was in 2007, when drug dealer Thomas Morocco Hager was convicted of stabbing a single mother 82 times and leaving her in a bathtub to be found dead by her 1-year-old daughter.

Friday's brief hearing in a half-empty courtroom, with Torrez in shackles and a green prison jumpsuit, gave a perfunctory conclusion to what had been an emotional trial, in which jurors heard how Snell, a Las Vegas native, had been found stuffed in a wall locker in her room. Torrez lived in the same barracks, a few doors down.

In the trial's sentencing phase, jurors also held Torrez responsible for the slayings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias in Torrez's hometown of Zion. Laura's father, Jerry Hobbs, was originally charged in that case and spent five years in custody until the DNA evidence pointed to Torrez. Hobbs said he was coerced into a false confession.

Torrez was only 16 when the girls were killed.

Snell's murder had also gone unsolved for several years. It was not until after police in Arlington arrested Torrez in 2010 for a series of violent, stalking attacks on women -- including one in which a woman was abducted, repeatedly raped, choked and left for dead -- that DNA evidence led authorities to Torrez in the deaths of Snell and the two girls.

Torrez's lawyers said Friday that their client will appeal his conviction. That had been uncertain. After he was found guilty, Torrez ordered his lawyers to make no effort on his behalf during the trial's sentencing phase.

Robert Jenkins, one of Torrez's lawyers, said his client's rationale has not changed and that he maintains that his innocence, but prefers a death sentence to life in prison without parole.

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