Petty Officer Amanda Jean Snell, 20, US Navy, was found dead in her room at the barracks at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Virginia on July 13, 2009. Naval Criminal Investigation Services (NCIS) had jurisdiction of her case. They conducted an initial investigation yet the case went nowhere because NCIS investigators confided in the murderer and were divided on whether the death was a homicide, suicide, or accidental. As a result, the DNA lab testing was not considered a priority because the autopsy was considered undetermined, not a homicide. Four years and four civilian victims later, former U.S. Marine Jorge Avila Torrez was indicted for Amanda’s murder, found guilty by a federal court, and sentenced to death in 2014.
Torrez lived on the same co-ed floor as Amanda Snell in Keith Hall barracks on the base. On the night of July 12, 2009, he entered her room, she screamed, and he strangled her in an effort to silence her. His crimes were sexually motivated. He jammed Amanda into her locker and put a pillow case over her head in an effort to fool investigators into thinking she had suffocated. After she was found dead on the federal base, NCIS began their investigation. They interviewed multiple people in the barracks and initiated a forensic examination of Amanda’s room. They claim they sent the evidence to the military DNA lab testing facility to determine if any DNA was present. In the meantime, Torrez offered to help with the investigation and NCIS accepted his offer. They asked him to spread a rumor around the barracks that they had a witness who saw someone enter her room that night.
During the stalled NCIS investigation, Torrez attacked four other civilian women in Arlington, Virginia in 2010. Three of them escaped his attempted abduction but one of them was abducted, raped, strangled, and left for dead in the woods. Torrez thought he killed her but she lived. Because all four victims reported the crimes, the Arlington Police Department was able to make the connection with the four cases. Thanks to the due diligence of two Arlington police officers, detectives were able to find out who owned the light colored SUV. These two police officers had observed on shift that the driver of this SUV was acting suspiciously and called in his license plate number to determine if he had any outstanding warrants. They learned Torrez was an active duty Marine living at Keith Hall Barracks on the the Navy base. The Arlington Police detectives had to coordinate with NCIS to gain access to the base so they could arrest him and search his room and vehicle. Jorge Torrez was jailed while he awaited trial.
While Torrez was awaiting trail, he asked some inmates to help him find a hit man to silence the three witnesses that would be testifying against him. One of the inmates he confided in was a confidential informant. After the informant reported the troubling conversations with authorities, he was asked to wear a wire to record future conversations. It was at this time that Jorge Torrez not only admitted his intentions to kill the three victims who were going to testify against him at his trial but he also revealed that he murdered Amanda Jean Snell at the Navy base. Meanwhile, the Arlington Police Department entered the DNA from the victim who was raped into CODIS, a national DNA database, and got a hit to two murders of children in Zion, Illinois where Torrez was from. When NCIS finally tested and compared the DNA on the sheets in Amanda’s room, this forensic evidence linked Torrez to Amanda’s murder as well. The Marine Corps dishonorably discharged him from the military.
NCIS bungled this investigation from the beginning. The investigators could not agree on whether Amanda Snell was murdered, committed suicide, or died accidentally. Because her autopsy report was “undetermined” and her death was not ruled a homicide, it did not have priority in the military DNA testing lab. Apparently an undetermined death and rape and sexual assault DNA is not given a high priority in military labs. When in fact, if all suspicious deaths and sex crimes were given higher priority, we could prevent further victimization and homicides. It was not until they learned of the four other victims in Arlington, Virginia and the two murders of children in Zion, Illinois that they expedited the testing of the DNA found in Amanda Snell’s room. We do not know if it is procedure for NCIS to compare DNA evidence of military members accused of crimes to the national DNA database. If they had tested the DNA earlier and entered the DNA into CODIS, they would have got a hit to the two murders in Illinois.
In the initial stages of the investigation, the NCIS agents investigated multiple people in the barracks. Jorge Torrez offered to be a confidential informant of sorts to help them with the investigation. They accepted. They asked him to spread a rumor that they had a witness who saw someone enter her room that night. They wanted to ferret out the killer by spreading panic. Quite often investigators will say they have evidence they don’t have in an attempt to cause stress and elicit confessions. Now they were not able to call anyone’s bluff. They in effect blew any chances of an effective investigation by telling the actual killer that they had nothing. It’s troubling that they did not see the red flag when Torrez offered to inject himself into the investigation. Murder suspects have been known to do this and befriend the victim’s family and friends in an attempt to stay apprised of what police know.
Lastly if sexual assault, rape, and undetermined causes of death were given higher priority in the NCIS DNA testing labs then maybe we could have prevented four other women from becoming victims of sex crimes and attempted murder. NCIS admits that the DNA was not given priority because it was not a homicide. Had NCIS made the DNA a higher priority and compared the results of the testing in CODIS, the national DNA database, they would have got a match to the DNA in Zion, Illinois. As a result of this match, they would have been able to triangulate the connection between Torrez in the barracks and where he was from in Zion, Illinois. They could have got a “commanders search warrant” to conduct a forensic examination of his room. There they would have found evidence of criminal intent like the collection of porn images they found on his computer that included fantasies about rape and suffocation of women. DNA from sexual assault and rape should be given the highest priority in the military DNA lab testing facilities to prevent an escalation of violent crimes to homicide both in the military and in our civilian communities. All DNA profiles tested in the military should be immediately entered in CODIS.
Eight months after Jorge Avila Torrez was arrested by the Arlington Police Department, he was found guilty and sentenced to five life terms and 168 years in prison for the attacks on three of the four civilian women from Arlington, Virginia. Four years later, he was found guilty and sentenced to death by the federal courts for the murder of Amanda Jean Snell on the US Navy base in Arlington, Virginia. In an unexpected plot twist Illinois authorities learned the man they convicted for the murders of Krystal Tobias (9) and Laura Hobbs (8) was innocent. Authorities released Jerry Hobbs, the father of one of the children, from jail in 2010 and vowed to try Torrez for a sexual assault of one child and the murder of both children from Zion, Illinois. Illinois authorities charged Torrez with the crimes in 2015 and are expected to go to trial some time in 2016. Jorge Torrez is currently sitting on death row.
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