Jerry Hobbs, 39, was in court at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan Wednesday morning. Hobbs, held in handcuffs, appeared for an already scheduled status hearing for his trial. He was then returned to jail. His attorneys say he should be a free man. They say he's a victim, a grieving father who's been locked up for five years. Attorneys say it will take about two weeks to file a motion for Hobbs' release.
In 2005, the Mother's Day discovery of the stabbing deaths of Laura Hobbs, 8, and her friend Krystal Tobias, 9, shocked north suburban Zion residents. When police charged Laura's father with their murders, neighbors thought the case was solved and the right man was in custody.
"Jerry is the one who found the bodies at the time. And from what we understand from the investigation from the Zion Police Department and others, that they had found evidence in the house," said neighbor Dan Florick.
The DNA evidence is raising questions about the prosecution's case against Jerry Hobbs. Prosecutors charged him after they say he confessed. But Jerry Hobbs' attorney claims the confession was coerced. A DNA sample taken from one of the girls was placed in a national database and turned up a match to an out-of-state prisoner. Prosecutors would not identify the new suspect Tuesday.
But Sara Torrez, who lives near the crime scene, says the Lake County Crime Task Force questioned her and her parents Tuesday and searched their home. She says the search was tied to her brother who formerly lived there, 21-year-old Jorge "George" Torrez. He's not been charged.
"We were shocked because, why can't we go back to the house? They said, 'We currently have a team searching and we don't want you there when we're searching,'" said Sara Torrez. "And we thought that was very odd it happened. And we were not allowed back in the house until 4:36 a.m. the next day.
"They said he was linked to a crime that happened here," Sara Torrez said. "They said involving the two murders of the little girls on Mother's Day."
Sara Torrez said she doesn't believe it could be possible,
"I don't. I find it hard to believe that it's taken five years," she said.
Jorge Torrez is in jail in Virginia for an unrelated crime. His family says he's a respected Marine who's been honored with medals.
"My family and I love him and support him, and we will be with him throughout this, and we don't believe he's guilty," said Sara Torrez. "To be quite honest my parents and I believe that somewhere along the way somebody is setting him up."
Torrez was the best friend of the older brother of one of the two girls raped and murdered in a wooded area on the outskirts of a Zion park. Alberto Segura, Krystal Tobias' brother, tells ABC 7 he is stunned to hear his friend's DNA may now link him to the crime.
"No, never. I never suspected but other buddies said [after hearing yesterday's news] 'I seen it coming," said Alberto Segura, Tobias' brother.
Kathleen Zellner, who has had several clients cleared through DNA, said she believes prosecutors should drop the case against Jerry Hobbs immediately. Lake County police say they will reanalyze every piece of evidence.
"Whenever you have a confession, you must corroborate it. You have got to have crime-scene evidence that fits what the person is telling you, and DNA is obviously a deal breaker," said Jerry Hobbs' attorney Kathleen Zellner.
Jerry Hobbs has been in jail for five years awaiting trial. He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges.
Neighbors react to new DNA evidence
"I can't believe it, and I know when other people hear it, they're not going able to believe it either," said Florick.
A new tree and a plaque that sit in the middle of Beulah Park will always be a reminder to Zion residents about the two girls who were brutally murdered there years ago. Laura Hobbs and Krystal Tobias were found in the woods with mulitple stab wounds. Their shoes were placed neatly next to their bodies.
A small piece of DNA evidence was found on Laura Hobbs. A couple years ago, it was determined the samples did not match Jerry Hobbs' DNA. But it wasn't until June 25, 2010 that it was found to match a new suspect.
"We mobilized the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force and are reinterviewing witnesses and reanalyzing every piece of evidence," attorney Jeffrey Pavletic said in a statement Tuesday.
Florick's daughter was best friends with Krystal. A memorial to her still stands in his back yard.
"[Krystal] would come over a lot every single day and stuff, and we would hang out all the time and make scrapbooks and stuff. That's basically what I miss," said friend Cristela Florick.
On Wednesday afternoon in the shadow of the woods where two young girls lost their lives, other children played and concern returned.
"They police have an obligation to the community to get it solved because it strikes a lot of fear in people," said Nick Hawn, Zion resident.
Jerry Hobbs allegedly confessed to the murders after a 20-hour interrogation but later retracted the confession.
Despite the lack of physical evidence connecting him to the crime, Hobbs was arrested and charged and has been jailed since. The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.