Jorge Torrez, who was sentenced to death Friday for killing a sailor at an Arlington military base in 2009, is appealing his conviction, but even Torrez’s lawyer admits his chances of success are slim.
“They may seem bleak,” says Robert Jenkins, Jr., “but they still exist.”
Jenkins says he hasn’t settled on an argument, but he intends to contest the government’s “lack of evidence,” the jury selection process, and the fact that the judge in the case, US District Judge Liam O’Grady, allowed Torrez’s past criminal conviction and charges to be introduced into the murder case.
O’Grady gave the 25-year-old former Marine the maximum sentence for killing Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, who lived down the hall from Torrez at Fort Myers. In his April trial, jurors found Torrez guilty of strangling the 20-year-old sailor and recommended the death penalty, after hearing evidence that Torrez was charged with killing two young girls in Zion, Illinois, as a teenager.
Prosecutors also presented evidence about Torrez’s conviction by an Arlington jury in 2010 for sexual assault and other charges in a case covered by Washingtonian. Torrez received life in prison for that crime.
“Our position will be that it’s not appropriate for jurors to be bombarded with information about these prior cases,” says Jenkins, who says he’s been involved in more that 12 capital murder cases.
The long-odds appeal also seemingly runs counter to Torrez’s statement, after his conviction in the Snell case, that “he prefers death rather than spending the rest of his life in prison,” Jenkins says.
Then why appeal?
“He contests the allegation he killed Amanda Snell,” says Jenkins, while acknowledging the contradiction.
“It makes no sense if you consider the Arlington conviction,” Jenkins says. “A life sentence is a life sentence. But he has the right to have a federal review of the state case.” Torrez has requested the review.
Moreover, prosecutors in Illinois intend to try Torrez for murdering nine-year-old Krystal Tobias and her friend Laura Hobbs, eight, in 2005. He’s linked to the murders by DNA and was heard discussing the Zion murders in a jailhouse conversation recorded by a fellow inmate.
If convicted, he’s likely to face yet another life sentence.
The Torrez death-sentence appeal will be the first for Jenkins. The 43-year-old Charleston, South Carolina, native has been practicing law in Virginia for 19 years, after graduating from Howard University and the George Washington University Law School.
The federal court appointed Jenkins to represent Torrez at a rate of $168 an hour—“not a lot of money at all,” he says. Jenkins says he’s not opposed to capital punishment.
“I advocate for capital defendants to make sure they receive due process,” he says. “I want to make sure the decision was arrived at with all proper safeguards in place.”
Jenkins expects the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, based in Richmond, will hear arguments sometime in the winter of 2015.