Antolin Garcia-Torres is scheduled to return to court today to enter a plea on the charge of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping.
Authorities believe the 21-year-old Morgan Hill resident kidnapped and murdered Morgan Hill teen Sierra LaMar, 15, who was last seen the morning of March 16.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office filed a criminal complaint against Garcia-Torres based on .
If Garcia-Torres enters a guilty plea at the Hall of Justice in San Jose on Tuesday, the case will stop and proceed to a sentencing hearing, according to Marc Buller, assistant district attorney for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
However, a guilty plea in the early stages of the case is extremely rare, Buller said, because the defense is still in the process of conducting research and investigating the case to build its argument.
A more likely plea of not guilty would send the case to a preliminary examination where a judge would determine if there’s enough evidence to bring the case to trial. If the case were to go to trial, Garcia-Torres would be arraigned again on new information, and a trial date would be set, Buller said.
Prosecutor David Boyd has gone all-in with the charge of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping by choosing not to file the lesser charge of kidnapping.
The prosecution’s “all or nothing” strategy means Garcia-Torres would be convicted of murder and kidnapping if found guilty, but also implies the suspect could walk free if a guilty verdict isn't reached.
The lone charge of murder doesn’t leave a jury anything else to charge the suspect with, and could ultimately lead to his freedom because he can't be retried in court, said criminal attorney and legal analyst Steven Clark.
“I think the reason they did that is they believe they have a strong case for murder and they don’t want the fallback of only kidnapping,”
Santa Clara County Deputy Alternate Public Defender Traci Owens was assigned to represent Garcia-Torres after the suspect’s previous defense attorney, Ken Mandel, .
Garcia-Torres appeared in court on May 31. Instead of entering a plea on the charge of murder with the special circumstance of kidnapping, he .
Garcia-Torres will appear in court at 9:30 a.m. in department 23 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose.
Here's a leading up to Garcia-Torres’ July 31 court appearance.
For previous coverage of the Sierra LaMar case, refer to the Sierra LaMar Disappearance: Comprehensive Updates and Information page on Gilroy Patch.