A Long Beach man accused of abducting and killing 17-year-old Norma Lopez pleaded not guilty Wednesday.
Jesse Perez Torres, 35, was arrested last month, more than year after the Moreno Valley teen was taken while she walked home from summer school at Valley View High School. Torres was linked to the crime through DNA, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
Torres is charged with murder and a special circumstance of kidnapping, said District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Hall. Torres could face life in prison without parole and is eligible for the death penalty if convicted, Hall said. Norma’s sister, Elizabeth, said she hopes the suspect spends the rest of his life in jail for what he did to her family and her sister.
“I don’t want him to get the death penalty. That’s the easy way out,” she said.
Torres is due back in court Jan. 6, Hall said.
Norma vanished July 15, 2010 while taking a shortcut home through a field. Her personal belongings were found in the field that was used as a shortcut. Authorities said there were signs of a struggle.
Her body was found five days later badly decomposed under an Olive tree in a remote field on Theodore Avenue, about three miles from the area where she was believed to be abducted. A man preparing to mow his front lawn saw the teen’s body under the tree, authorities said.
Riverside County Coroner’s had to positively identify the body through dental records.
Torres was arrested Oct. 20 after being pulled over by police near his Long Beach apartment, authorities said. He was booked at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside and was briefly released Oct. 24 after the District Attorney’s Office failed to file charges against him.
The 48-hour period for which a jail detainee can be legally held without violating his constitutional right to speedy arraignment lapsed Oct. 24, and because there had been no action by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, Torres was freed that evening. Investigators rearrested him outside the jail the same evening.
Before moving to Long Beach in 2010, Torres lived in Moreno Valley near Valley View High School in the area where Lopez walked past the morning she was abducted, according to the District Attorney’s Office. He also owned an SUV matching the description of a vehicle seen in the area at the time of the abduction, the District Attorney’s Office said.
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Norma Lopez’s family speaks out about arrest