Jesse Perez Torres should be executed for murdering 17-year-old Norma Angelica Lopez of Moreno Valley 10 years ago, a Riverside County Superior Court judge ruled Friday, Dec. 4.
Judge Bernard J. Schwartz affirmed the jury’s recommendation of the death penalty for Torres, 44.
“The killing of Norma Lopez and the dumping of her body like a piece of garbage can only be described as disgusting,” the judge said before sentencing Torres. ”The defendant displays an utter disregard for human life and is a threat to society. No question about that. ”
A death sentence is automatically appealed. Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued a moratorium on executions.
The case gripped the region after Lopez vanished while walking to a friend’s home on July 15, 2010, following a summer school class at Valley View High. Friends and relatives scoured the area when Lopez failed to show, finding her school binder, purse and a broken earring strewn on the ground.
Five days later, Lopez’s topless, partially decomposed remains were found in a grove of olive trees about 3 miles from where she had disappeared.
The investigation eventually stalled until September 2011, when DNA lifted from her earring was matched against a DNA sample taken from Torres after a domestic violence arrest. Torres’ attorney said he believed that the DNA pointed to many more people than Torres. But a green SUV similar to one once owned by Torres was seen driving through the neighborhood at almost the exact time that Lopez was taken.
Less than a month later, Torres was arrested and charged with murder. His DNA had been collected earlier that year in a domestic violence case.
Torres had lived along the route that Lopez normally walked with her boyfriend after school, and prosecutors theorized that Torres waited until a day when Lopez walked alone to kidnap and kill her. Torres moved to Long Beach after the slaying.
Challenges to evidence and changes in defense teams and prosecutors contributed to delays in bringing the case to trial.
Lopez’s cause of death was never determined, due to the state of her body when it was found.
On March 13, 2019, jurors found Lopez guilty of murder with a special circumstance of kidnapping that made him eligible for the death penalty. After the penalty phase, the same seven-man, five-woman jury needed to deliberate for only an hour before reaching a decision on a sentence of death.
Torres has an IQ of 68 and was raised without his father, who was in prison, Schwartz noted during the sentencing hearing.