A Long Beach man accused of abducting and killing 17-year-old Norma Angelica Lopez was charged with murder today and made a short court appearance, but his arraignment was postponed until next month.
Jesse Perez Torres, 35, was charged with first-degree murder and a special circumstance allegation that the crime occurred during a kidnapping, which could make him eligible for the death penalty if he’s convicted.
He remains jailed in lieu of $1 million bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside. Shackled and clad in a red jumpsuit, the 5-foot-5, 110-pound Torres sat quietly through most of his initial court appearance, during which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Richard Fields appointed him a public defender.
Deputy Public Defender O.G. Magno requested that the defendant’s arraignment be postponed to Nov. 16 so he would have sufficient time to confer with his client and review the prosecution’s evidence. Fields agreed.
Prosecutors announced Wednesday that Torres would be charged in the case. He was arrested a week ago today on suspicion of murder and kidnapping to commit rape. He was released Monday after the state-mandated 48-hour period in which a detainee can be legally held without violating his constitutional right to speedy arraignment lapsed.
However, the defendant was immediately re-arrested on the same allegations before leaving the jail.
District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall said the case required an extensive review, leading to the delay in filing charges.
During a news briefing outside Moreno Valley City Hall last week, sheriff’s Capt. John Anderson, the city’s police chief, told reporters he was “confident” authorities had the right man and the community could finally “breathe a sigh of relief.”
Torres lived within a block of Valley View High School at the time of Norma’s murder. Hall said she walked along the street in front of the defendant’s home on the day she was abducted.
The teenager was taken while crossing a field used as a shortcut between the school and Cottonwood Avenue on July 15, 2010. After finishing a morning summer session class, she headed out alone across the open space, intending to meet up with her boyfriend, younger sister and friends at a residence in the 27300 block of Cottonwood Avenue.
Around noon, the teen was reported missing, and deputies located her personal items strewn across the field, indicating a struggle.
Her remains were discovered five days later, about 2 1/2 miles away, on Theodore Street in a sparsely populated area of east Moreno Valley. A man preparing to mow his front lawn saw the teen’s body under a tree.
The case attracted national attention and inspired local residents to organize searches, fundraisers and memorials for the girl, who would have graduated from Valley View in June.
In an interview earlier this year, Anderson told City News Service that investigators identified several “persons of interest” in the weeks following Norma’s death, but none of those leads panned out.
The focus was initially on a green sport utility vehicle, which witnesses reported speeding away from the area of Norma’s abduction.
“Torres owned an SUV at the time which matched the description of a vehicle witnesses described seeing in the area of the abduction,” Hall said. “Torres moved to Long Beach in August 2010.”