Judge allows DNA evidence linking ex-Marine to Lake County child killings
DNA evidence prosecutors say links a former Marine to the 2005 murders of two little girls in a Lake County park will be admissible if the case goes to trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Authorities say the DNA implicates Jorge Avila-Torrez, 28, in the killings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias, whose bodies were discovered on Mother's Day 2005 in Zion.
Laura Hobbs' father, Jerry Hobbs, initially was charged and spent five years incarcerated before he was cleared by the DNA evidence that prosecutors say point to Avila-Torrez.
His defense attorneys sought to have the DNA evidence barred from trial, arguing it is only a partial DNA match and could be inconclusive, misleading and prejudicial to Avila-Torrez, who in 2005 was 16 and living near the park where the girls' bodies were found.
But Judge Daniel Shanes ruled Wednesday that a jury could hear about the potential match.
Shanes did hand the defense a win on another matter Wednesday, blocking prosecutors for now from introducing jailhouse recordings in which authorities say Avila-Torrez admits to the murders. The judge said prosecutors must first give him a transcript of the recordings and he will rule on their admissibility on a statement-by-statement basis.
Shanes also will allow defense attorney Jed Stone to present evidence of federal trial testimony involving Osama El-Atari, the since deceased informant who recorded Avila-Torrez in jail.
El-Atari was jailed in 2010 on charges he scammed several banks out of $53 million. In exchange for a lesser sentence, he agreed to wear a police wire to record conversations with Avila-Torrez, court documents state. During those recordings, Avila-Torrez reportedly admitted killing Tobias and Hobbs.
El-Atari later was killed during a robbery in Maryland.
"The jury will know Mr. El-Atari when I get done with this case," Stone said Wednesday. "They will not like him, or trust him."
Torrez already is facing a death sentence and five life terms handed down in 2014 after he was convicted of killing Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, 20, in July 2009. They lived in the same barracks on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington County, Virginia.
He also was convicted of a series of stalking attacks on three women in northern Virginia in 2010.
Avila-Torrez could be sentenced to 100 more years in prison if he's convicted of the Zion girls' murders. He's expected to face trial in 2018.