Zion murder case informant found dead
The prosecution's case against a former U.S. Marine accused of the savage 2005 murder of two Zion girls could be hurt, his defense attorney said Friday, because a government informant who obtained a wiretapped confession was found dead in Maryland last month.
Defense attorney Jed Stone said he will file motions to block the introduction at trial of the recordings obtained by Osama El-Atari, 37, of the confession by Jorge Avila-Torrez, 25, because Stone will not be able to to cross examine El-Atari.
"I would say the death of El-Atari hurts the state's case, depending on the final ruling of the court," Stone said after the court hearing.
However, Assistant State's Attorney Ari Fisz said in court that prosecutors plan to use the jailhouse confession tape when Avila-Torrez goes to trial later this year for the murder of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias. Fisz said he will rely on testimony from the police officer who set up the wire tap.
"We anticipate he will testify about the process involved with recording the defendant's statements," Fisz said after the hearing. "He will lay the foundation for admission of the statements at trial."
El-Atari was jailed in 2010 on charges he scammed several banks out of $53 million when he allegedly agreed to wear a wire tap and record conversations he was having with Avila-Torrez, Stone said.
While wearing the wire tap, El-Atari captured Avila-Torrez confessing to killing the Zion girls, as well as the 2009 murder of a Navy sailor at a barracks in Virginia, Stone said.
Avila-Torrez was found guilty and sentenced to death in 2014 for killing the sailor. During the sentencing for that case, El-Atari testified about the jailhouse confession and the murder of the Zion girls.
According Maryland news media, El-Atari was found shot and killed in a pick up truck Feb. 13. Eric Garris, 29, and Taqwa Muhammed, 26, were charged with the murder, Maryland media is reporting. Officials said the murder was part of a robbery and had nothing to do with the wiretapping.
Stone said after court Friday that he had planned to cross-examine El-Atari at trial if prosecution planned to use the tape.
Avila-Torrez was returned to Lake County in December 2014 to stand trial on 18 counts of murder alleging he killed the two girls and left their bodies in a Zion park. Torrez was 16 at the time and lived in the neighborhood, authorities say.
Police initially charged father Laura Hobbs's father, Jerry Hobbs, because he found the girls' bodies. Hobbs confessed to the killings, but only after being interrogated by investigators for nearly 24 hours.
After he spent five years in the Lake County jail awaiting trial, DNA evidence obtained in another crime pointed to Avila-Torrez. Hobbs was released from jail and later sued the county for wrongful imprisonment.
In addition to the death sentence, Avila-Torrez is sentenced to five consecutive life sentences plus 168 years for stalking and raping three women in northern Virginia.
If found guilty of the girls' murders, Torrez could be sentenced to another 100 years in prison. Officials said a conviction normally would result in a life sentence, but because of his age at the time of the killings, Torrez's maximum sentence is 100 years.
He is due back in court March 24.