A former Marine pleaded guilty Tuesday to murdering two pre-teen girls in a notorious case that sent an innocent man -- one of the girl’s fathers -- to jail for five years before he was cleared.
Jorge Avila-Torrez pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder for killing 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias on Mother’s Day 2005, according to the Chicago Tribune. Calling his crimes “cruel, cold blooded and devoid of mercy,” Judge Daniel Shanes accepted Avila-Torrez’s guilty plea and sentenced him to 100 years in prison.
“You’re a serial killer,” Judge Shanes added, referring to Avila-Torrez’s 2010 conviction for murdering Amanda Snell, a Naval Military Intelligence specialist, and abducting or attempting to abduct three other woman, one of whom he raped several times before choking her, covering her face with packing tape and leaving her for dead laying face-down in snow, according to court records.
Avila-Torrez was sentenced to death for killing Snell, plus 168 years for his other crimes. He was extradited from Virginia's Red Onion State prison to Lake County in 2014 to face charges for the girls’ murders. Avila-Torrez will serve his sentences at a federal prison, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Marina Tobias, Krystal’s mother, was in the courtroom as Avila-Torrez pleaded guilty and was sentenced. “I just want to say we’re glad it’s over,” she said afterward, the Tribune reports. “It has been a very long time, and this ensures he’ll never do anything like that to anyone else.”
The girls’ killing in 2005 and the flawed police investigation that followed focused national attention on the issue of wrongful convictions and specifically on the law enforcement apparatus in Lake County, Illinois, where five innocent men were wrongly convicted and DNA evidence that exonerated them was ignored by Michael Waller, the Lake County prosecutor at the time, according to Eyewitness News 7, the ABC affiliate in Chicago.
Those five men served a total of 80 years in prison, Eyewitness News 7 reports.
Jerry Hobbs, the father of victim Laura Hobbs, was one of those five. He spent five years in jail awaiting trial before prosecutors dropped the murder charges against him and re-filed them against Avila-Torrez for killing the two girls. While the innocent Hobbs was sitting in jail, the guilty Avila-Torrez was free, raping and killing.
Hobbs arrived in Zion, Illinois, a small city in Lake County about 50 miles north of Chicago, in the spring of 2005. He was intent on reconciling with his girlfriend and their three children, who had moved there from Texas after Hobbs chased a rival for the woman’s affection with a chainsaw, according to the New York Times.
But a few weeks later after his arrival, his daughter, Laura, went outside to play with a friend, Krystal Tobias. They were last seen pedaling through the neighborhood on their bicycles. Hobbs looked for the girls all night, he said, and called police to report them missing.
As dawn rose, he found their bodies in a wooded public park, with multiple stab wounds around the necks and faces, the Times reported. Police attention immediately focused on the ex-convict from Texas, and a local police task force took him to a police precinct and interrogated him. Twenty hours later, he confessed.
“Things just got out of hand, and I lost it,” he said, according to the Times.
A preliminary police investigation failed to find evidence of sexual assault, and Hobb’s false confession did not include admissions of sexual assault. Then, three years later, Hobbs’ defense team retained a private laboratory to examine evidence in the case, and the lab found semen in Laura’s body. The DNA did not belong to Hobbs.
Instead of immediately exonerating Hobbs, Lake County State’s Attorney Mike Mermel rejected the report and said Laura could have gotten the semen on her playing the woods, where he said couples went to have sex, according to the Times.
Hobbs spent two more years in jail before Avila-Torrez was identified as the source of the DNA -- his DNA had been submitted to a national database after his arrest for Snell’s murder and other crimes in Virginia, according to the Washington Post. Avila-Torrez, who was 16 at the time of the girls’ murders, grew up in Zion, and was a friend of Krystal's older half-brother.
After his release, Hobbs explained to the New York Times why he falsely confessed to killing his daughter and her friend. “I found my daughter,” he said. “She didn’t even have eyes in her head. I was already broken. They didn’t have to break me.”
Hobbs sued after his exoneration, and in 2013 received more than $6 million dollars from various law enforcement agencies in Lake County, according to the Chicago Tribune. The money didn’t help. Hobbs was unavailable to comment Wednesday, because he was back in prison.
After being released in 2010, Hobbes returned to Wichita Falls, Texas, a small city near the Texas/Oklahoma border. Since then, he’s been arrested for drug possession, evading arrest, tampering with evidence and escape from a jail, according to the Times Record News, a local newspaper. He was sentenced to two years in prison in 2016.
[Photos: Krystal Tobias (l) and Laura Hobbs (r), Zion Police Department; Jerry Hobbs (l) and Jorge Avila-Torrez(r), Wichita County Sheriff, Lake County Sheriff]