A California man was convicted of abducting, raping and killing a 17-year-old girl who vanished nearly nine years ago while walking to a friend’s house.
A Riverside County Superior Court jury convicted Jesse Perez Torres, 42, Wednesday of murdering Norma Angelica Lopez after the man’s DNA was discovered on the teen’s body.
Lopez disappeared the morning of July 15, 2010 after attending a summer school class at Valley View High School. She was on her way to a friend’s house, where she planned to meet her younger sister, boyfriend and other friends, but she never arrived, The Press-Enterprise reports.
Her body would be discovered, partially nude, five days later under an olive tree.
“This was really everyone’s worst nightmare,” Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco told People. “She could have been anyone’s daughter. It could have been your daughter.”
Investigators arrested Torres, who lived near the high school, in October 2011.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Kersse told jurors Torres abducted the teen after his wife had left him and he was feeling depressed and drinking.
“He was looking out the window at teenage girls kissing their boyfriends on the corner,” he said. “(And) each and every day he was watching, he was waiting, he was looking through the blinds, he was lusting.”
Kersse said Torres decided to abduct the teen, who usually walked home with her boyfriend or sister, after noticing she was making the trip alone.
The killing shocked the community.
“The entire city was on edge because a random high school girl was randomly snatched from us,” Bianco told People. “We had no answers for them and everyone was afraid for their kids. It was a very trying time for the city, knowing there was someone out there that was capable of doing that to a child and we didn’t know who they were.”
While there were no witnesses to the crime, prosecutors based their case on DNA evidence found on an earring ripped from the teen’s ear and fibers found on Lopez’s underwear that matched those found in Torres' home and SUV.
His defense attorney John Dorr had argued that the prosecution had overlooked other DNA matches in the case and focused solely on his client. He also claimed flawed data had been entered into the state’s Combined DNA Index System.
Torres had no reaction when the guilty verdict was announced. Dorr told People his client was “sad and frustrated” with the result.
“It wasn’t the verdict we wanted,” he said.
Jurors will now begin the penalty phase of the case to decide whether Torres will receive the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison. Jurors will still have the option of selecting the death penalty even after the Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to place a moratorium on executions.
“The governor’s actions yesterday doesn’t change the law,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said according to KABC. “He can’t unilaterally change the law.”
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