- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - Prosecutors seeking the death penalty against an ex-Marine began making their case to a federal jury Monday, saying he killed a fellow service member as part of a series of violent attacks against young women.

Jorge Torrez, 25, is charged with premeditated murder in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, and could face the death penalty if convicted in the July 2009 death of Amanda Snell. The 20-year-old Navy sailor was found dead in her barracks, stuffed into a wall locker with a pillowcase over her head, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington.

A defense attorney told the jury during opening statements Monday that the evidence implicating Torrez is “terribly shoddy” and urged jurors to be skeptical of expected testimony from a jailhouse informant who says Torrez confessed.

Authorities did not focus on Torrez - who lived in the same barracks as Snell - until 2010, when he was arrested in Arlington and charged with abducting three women, raping one of them repeatedly and leaving her for dead. Torrez is already serving a life sentence in Red Onion State Prison for those crimes.

DNA collected from Torrez after his arrest in the Arlington attacks matched DNA found on a fitted sheet in Snell’s barracks room, prosecutor Michael Rich said. Torrez told investigators he had never been in Snell’s room.

DNA also linked Torrez to the 2005 killings of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias in Illinois, Torrez’s home state. Laura’s father, Jerry Hobbs, was originally charged in that case and spent five years in custody until the DNA evidence pointed to Torrez. Hobbs said he was coerced into a false confession. Illinois prosecutors are still waiting to put Torrez on trial.

But jurors in the Snell case will not hear about the Illinois killings, and Torrez’s lawyer, Will Mitchell, pointed out that authorities were not even sure that Snell had been slain until Torrez came to their attention a year later. The medical examiner had initially said that Snell’s cause of death was undetermined, and her body showed no evidence of sexual assault or being bound at the neck and wrists - contradicting details of Torrez’s alleged jailhouse confession.

Rich, the prosecutor, said Torrez deliberately misled his fellow inmate about details of the crime so his testimony would lack credibility if he indeed turned out to be an informant.

If Torrez is sentenced to death, it would be the first capital punishment handed out at the federal courthouse in Alexandria since 2007, when drug dealer Thomas Morocco Hager was convicted of fatally stabbing a single mother 82 times in 1993 and leaving the bloody body in a bathtub to be found by her 1-year-old daughter. He remains on death row.

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