Justice served after a decade. Back in July 2010, a 17-year-old Southern California girl was walking to a friend's house from her summer school class when she disappeared, leaving only a few of her personal items to be found. Norma Lopez's body was finally discovered five days later in an olive grove three miles away.
The crime was pegged to 44-year-old Jesse Perez Torres, who was charged in October 2011 with her slaying. It took until 2019 for him to be convicted of first-degree murder and the felony of kidnapping by a jury, which also handed down the recommendation of a death sentence.
On December 4 of this year, a judge finally affirmed the jury’s decision and sentenced Torres to death.
The circumstances of Lopez's death were unclear but grisly. According to a report by the Desert Sun, Riverside County deputy district attorney Kevin Beecham told the jury that Torres "left his DNA all over her." The pathologist in the case noted she was wearing only her jeans when she was found, and that he suspected she died as a result of strangulation.
Jesse Perez Torres was sentenced to death for the 2010 murder of 17-year-old Norma Lopez as she walked from school to a friend’s house in Moreno Valley. Photo: Riverside County District Attorney
Torres lived next door to the high school Lopez attended, where at the time she was taking a morning biology class.
“The killing of Norma Lopez and the dumping of her body like a piece of garbage can only be described as disgusting,” Riverside County Superior Court judge Bernard J. Schwartz said before sentencing Torres, according to the Orange County Register. “The defendant displays an utter disregard for human life and is a threat to society. No question about that.”
At the sentencing hearing, according to a statement from the county district attorney's office, Norma’s sister read a letter from the family, in which her mother wrote a heartbreaking ode. “I took Norma to school that day not knowing it was the last time I will ever see her again. That’s the day this nightmare started. Without Norma, my house was filled with pain and sadness.
“In my house there is no happiness like how it was when Norma was here,” the letter continued. “Everywhere in the house there was laughter and happiness. It was beautiful. But that all ended the day that Norma did not return home to us.”
Norma’s sister told the judge: “They say that time heals everything, but it doesn’t. We just had to learn how to go on with our lives and live with the pain, even though it isn’t easy to do.
“Even though she isn’t with us physically, I know she’s always with us. There never goes a day that we don’t think about Norma.”