Jesse Perez Torres faces a possible death sentence for the July 2010 death of Norma Angelica Lopez. In addition to convicting Torres of murder, jurors also found true the special circumstance allegation of killing in the course of a kidnapping.
Guilty verdict in Norma Lopez murder case in Moreno Valley
The trial will now move to a penalty phase, during which the jury will recommend a sentence of either death or life in prison without parole for Torres.
Man found guilty of Moreno Valley teens murder
During his closing argument, Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Kevin Beecham told jurors, The DNA is the most important evidence in this case. It is the most damning evidence we have.
The evidentiary portion of Torres month-long trial concluded last week, and Beecham referenced expert witnesses called by the prosecution to establish the strong forensic link between Torres and Normas death.
Torres has also been found guilty of kidnapping. The trial will now enter the penalty phase. The jury will return to hear evidence Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.
He left his DNA all over her … pants, purse, earring, Beecham said. It all points to the same person. Its too coincidental to be a coincidence.
The prosecutor also underscored the evidentiary connection between the carpet fibers located inside Torres former Moreno Valley residence and the ones later gleaned from the dead teenagers underpants.
Those carpet fibers were nowhere to be found in Normas environment, only the defendants environment, Beecham said.
No DNA matches were initially found in the states Combined DNA Index System, better known as CODIS, in the months immediately following Normas slaying. But according to the prosecution, that changed by September 2011, when potential matches were identified out of the 1.8 million individuals whose biological identities were then in the database.
The defendant had been required to provide DNA samples after a domestic violence incident in early 2011.
According to Beecham, testing on the DNA strands collected from Normas garments and possessions, both at the scene of her abduction and where her body was placed, revealed that the chance of an errant forensic profile was 1 in 5.87 million.
The prosecutor looked the defendant directly in the eye, stating, You killed Norma Lopez, and you dumped her under that tree like garbage.
We showed with our forensic expert that this evidence was handled inappropriately, the attorney said. The DNA was contaminated.
He pointed specifically to crime scene photographs showing that the broken earring that had been ripped from Normas body was moved several times by evidence technicians before it was collected and processed.
Dorr said the prosecutions contention that Torres, who is roughly the same height as Norma was, could have snatched her and drove away with her by himself was implausible.
He questioned the motive for the crime, noting there was no sign of a sexual assault in autopsy results, and he characterized the carpet fiber clues as dubious.
Those fibers could have come from any of hundreds of homes in Southern California, Dorr said. A million square feet of that type of carpet is produced every year.
Riverside Countys chief pathologist, Dr. Mark Fajardo, testified that he could only speculate as to exactly how Norma was killed, though he eventually formed an opinion that it was homicidal violence.
There are a number of ways to kill someone without leaving a mark, the witness testified. Strangulation or asphyxiation is possible.
Fajardo said that the girls remains were in a degraded state after being left in an olive tree grove on Theodore Street, at the eastern edge of Moreno Valley, amid sweltering heat. She was found in the early afternoon of July 20, 2010, by a man on a tractor, doing landscaping. Photos displayed by the prosecution showed the teen head down, nude from the waist up, wearing blue jeans but no shoes.
Beecham said Torres could easily have observed Norma from his then- residence at 13173 Creekside Way, watching her whenever she left Valley View High School, where she was taking a morning biology class for the summer.
Every day that shed left the campus for several weeks, she had been with her boyfriend. But on July 15, 2010, he was behind schedule, and she set off on her own. The victim headed south on Creekside, east to Quail Creek Drive, then south again on Mill Creek Road before crossing an open field toward Cottonwood Avenue, where her older sister, Sonia Lopez, and friends gathered almost daily that summer.
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A security surveillance videotape from a house looking down on Creekside captured the last images of Norma alive, walking the route. The tape also showed, moments later, a green SUV cruising slowly in the direction that she was walking, shortly after 10 a.m. The vehicle re-appeared less than five minutes later, speeding away from the area. According to the prosecution, Torres owned a green Nissan Xterra at the time.
Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco speaks with the media outside the courthouse after jurors found Jesse Perez Torres, 42, guilty in the 2010 killing of Norma Lopez, 17, of Moreno Valley, in Dept. 44 of the Hall of Justice in Riverside on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Defense attorney John Dorr talks with defendant Jesse Perez Torres, 42, before he is found guilty in the 2010 killing of Norma Lopez, 17, of Moreno Valley, in Dept. 44 of the Hall of Justice in Riverside on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
This image provided by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department shows Norma Lopez, 17, a high school student who was walking home from summer school when she was abducted on July 15, 2010. Authorities found her belongings and signs of a struggle. Her body was found five days later in a field two miles away. Riverside County sheriff’s deputies investigating the murder of Lopez have impounded an SUV and searched a Moreno Valley home about three blocks from the field where she was kidnapped. (Courtesy of Riverside County Sheriff’s Department)
Norma Lopez, a missing girl from Moreno Valley, seen wearing the shirt she was wearing July 15, 2010, the day she disappeared.
Avel Rangel of Moreno Valley proudly wears a tattoo for his friend Norma Lopez who was born in 1992 and was murdered in 2010. Norma Lopez was murdered last year on the way to a friends home after summer school in Moreno Valley, Friday, July 15, 2011. (File photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo family members follow the casket of Norma Lopez during the start of her funeral service on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at Saint Christopher’s Catholic Church in Moreno Valley. (Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo Norma Lopez, carying child, and Martin Lopez, parents of murdered teen Norma Lopez, follow the casket of Norma Lopez during the start of her funeral service on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at Saint Christopher’s Catholic Church in Moreno Valley. (Stan Lim,The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo Elizabeth Lopez, at left center, wipes a tear as she and her sister Sonia, and father Martin Lopez speak, her brother Jose is at far right, at a press conference at the family home in Moreno Valley on Thursday, July 22, 2010. At left is Elizabeth and in center is Sonia. Norma Lopez was found murdered and this is the first time the family has talked since finding out. (File photo by Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo Moreno Valley police investigate near the corner of Dracaea Avenue and Theodore Street where human remains where discovered on Tuesday, July 20, 2010 in Moreno Valley. Police have not identified the remains, or even whether they belonged to a male or female. The body was found about two miles away from where Norma Lopez, a teenager who went missing last Thursday, was last known to have been. (File photo by Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo a memorial is started for Norma Lopez, on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 outside Valley View High School in Moreno Valley. Norma went missing last week and her body was discovered Tuesday. (File photo by Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo a memorial in honor of Norma Lopez is created on Wednesday, July 21, 2010 outside Valley View High School in Moreno Valley. Norma went missing last week and her body was discovered Tuesday. (Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In tis file photo Martin Lopez holds a photo of three of his daughters, Norma in front and center, at a press conference at the family home in Moreno Valley on Thursday, July 22, 2010. At left is Elizabeth and in center is Sonia. Norma Lopez was found murdered and this is the first time the family has talked since that knowledge. (File photo by Kurt Miller, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo Norma Lopez, mother of Norma Angelica Lopez, breaks down in tears at the end of funeral services for her daughter on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at Saint Christopher’s Catholic Church Moreno Valley. Norma, who was 17, was abducted and murdered while walking home from summer school a couple weeks ago. Her body was discovered five days later. (File photo by Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
In this file photo a montage of photos of Norma Lopez is carried into the church before the start of her funeral service on Thursday, July 29, 2010 at Saint Christopher’s Catholic Church Moreno Valley. (File photo by Stan Lim, The Press Enterprise/SCNG)
Moreno Valley Police Chief John Anderson announced the arrest of Jesse Perez Torres in connection with the murder of Norma Lopez during a press conference at Moreno Valley City Hall Friday.
In this file photo Jesse Perez Torres waits in Riverside Superior Court for his arraignment which was continued to a later date Friday. Jesse Perez Torres is charged with the murder of Moreno Valley Teen Norma Lopez. (File photo by Mark Zaleski, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Jesse Perez Torres, accused of slaying Moreno Valley teen Norma Lopez in 2010, appears in court for opening statements in death penalty trial on Tuesday February 5, 2019. (Photo by Milka Soko, Contributing Photographer)
Expand A Riverside County Superior Court jury on Wednesday found Jesse Perez Torres guilty of murdering 17-year-old Norma Angelica Lopez almost nine years ago after he had intercepted Lopez as she walked alone across a vacant field in Moreno Valley.
Included in the verdict is a special circumstance: Torres was found to have kidnapped the teen during a murder, making the 42-year-old eligible for the death penalty.
Torres was arrested at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, 2011, 15 months after Lopezs death. He was convicted at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday when the court clerk read the verdict form submitted by the jury foreman.
After the verdict was announced, Sheriff Chad Bianco, head of the Moreno Valley detective division during the investigation into the murder, exchanged hugs and handshakes with Lopezs family and law enforcement and told one of the deputy district attorneys who prosecuted the case, Michael Kersse: Great job.
Thats a long time, the sheriff said to a reporter later, about the span from crime to conviction. My opinion is that the jury came to the right opinion and that Im glad for the family that its over.
Without a direct witness to the crime, jurors had to rely on DNA evidence that was debated by expert witnesses for both sides. DNA was found on an earring ripped from Lopezs ear during a struggle. And fibers found on Lopezs underwear matched fibers found in the home on Creekside Way in Moreno Valley where Torres lived at the time and in his SUV, Kersse said. Torres later moved to Long Beach.
We were working nonstop to find these leads, Bianco said. We owed it to the public, we owed it to the family.
The seven-man, five-woman jury will return Thursday afternoon to the downtown Riverside Hall of Justice courtroom of Judge Bernard J. Schwartz for the start of the penalty phase. They could vote to put Torres to death — despite Gov. Gavin Newsoms moratorium on carrying out that sentence — or send him to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
Family members of Torres and Lopez attended the hearing. They declined to speak to the media afterward. The prosecutors and defense attorneys also declined to comment on the case.
Lopez was abducted the morning of July 15, 2010, after she had attended a summer class at Valley View High. She was walking to a house in the 27300 block of Cottonwood Avenue to meet her younger sister, her boyfriend and others but never made it there.
Her partially clothed, decomposing body was found five days later beneath an olive tree three miles from a field where prosecutors say they believe she was taken.
Such a horrific crime happened in our community because predators live among us, Kersse told the jury on Monday.
Kersse said Torres lived on Creekside Way, opposite the high school, his wife had left him, and he was alone. He was drinking. He was depressed.
He was looking out the window at the teenage girls kissing their boyfriends on the corner, Kersse said. (And) each and every day he was watching, he was waiting, he was looking through the blinds, he was lusting.
The deputy district attorney said Torres waited for the one day her boyfriend did not meet her for her walk home.
Defense attorney John Dorr told jurors that flawed data from DNA, taken from Lopezs broken earring, was entered by a state Department of Justice lab analyst into the states Combined DNA Index System, which stores DNA samples of criminal offenders.
The state lab analyst had concluded the strongest DNA evidence from the two dozen matches turned out to be Torres.
If properly entered, Dorr told jurors, We would have many more than the 24 candidate matches we had in this case.
Once Torres was identified as a suspect, defense attorneys said, detectives ceased pursuing any other leads or possible suspects.