Lake County, Illinois
Date of Crime: May 8, 2005
Few cases have damaged Lake County’s credibility as much as the one
against Jerry Hobbs. In the spring of 2005, Hobbs arrived in Lake County
after a two-year stint in a Texas prison for chasing a rival for his
girlfriend’s affections with a chain saw. His plan was to reconcile with the
girlfriend, who was now living in Zion, Ill., and to become reacquainted
with their three children.
A few weeks after he arrived, his daughter, Laura, went outside to play with
a friend, Krystal Tobias, who was 9. The girls never returned, and that
evening the family began looking for them and eventually called the police.
After a frantic night of searching, Hobbs said he came across the girls’
bodies in a remote wooded area around 6 a.m. They were lying on their backs,
fully clothed, with multiple stab wounds and bruises, particularly around
their necks and faces.
Hobbs was brought back to the Zion police station by 7:30 that morning, and
the questioning began. Investigators thought it was suspicious that an
ex-convict who was new to the area discovered the bodies before local
residents and the police, and they thought his reaction to finding the
bodies was also odd. According to police reports: “Hobbs referred to his
daughter Laura and Krystal Tobias as ‘them girls’ and didn’t use Laura’s
name. Hobbs also didn’t show any emotion and avoided looking at us when we
talked about Laura.” After maintaining his innocence for about 20 hours,
Hobbs finally relented and signed a confession stating that when he went to
get Laura to come home, the girls resisted, then Krystal pulled out a small
knife, and the two girls attacked him. Hobbs said he hit them both and
eventually got the knife from Krystal and began stabbing her, then stabbed
Laura. “Things just got out of hand, and I lost it,” he said.
He was charged with the murders, and prosecutors vowed to seek the death
An initial examination found no evidence of sexual assault in the case, and
Hobbs never mentioned it in his confession. Two years after his arrest,
though, a private laboratory hired by his lawyers discovered that there had
been sperm in Laura’s vagina, anus and mouth, and they tested a sample. The
defense lawyers immediately announced that DNA analysis showed the DNA did
not match Hobbs’s.
When [Prosecutor Mike] Mermel heard about the findings, he dismissed them
and suggested that Laura could have got the sperm on her while playing in
the woods, where couples might have sex.
Hobbs remained in jail, awaiting trial, for more than two years before the
DNA was found to match a friend of Krystal’s older brother named Jorge
Torrez, who was already serving a sentence in a Virginia jail for attacking
three women, one of whom he raped, choked and left for dead. (He was
eventually sentenced to life in prison for those crimes; currently he is
also being charged for the 2009 murder of a 20-year-old naval officer.)
In August 2010, Michael Waller, the state’s attorney, told reporters he was
releasing Hobbs because they could no longer prove his guilt beyond a
Lake County has yet to charge Torrez for the murders of Laura and Krystal,
and Mermel said he still suspected that Hobbs was the killer and that the
sperm was not related to the crime. One plausible scenario, he says, is that
Torrez masturbated while visiting Krystal’s brother, and then Laura got it
on her hands and unknowingly transferred it elsewhere.
“They have popcorn-movie night, and the little girl is in the same bed where
this guy did it,” Mermel said by way of explanation. “How do we get colds?
We touch our mouths, we touch our nose. What does a woman do after she
urinates?” We were in the lobby of the prosecutor’s office, and Mermel
answered his own question by standing and pulling his hand between his legs,
as if wiping himself. “Front to back, O.K.?”
Hobbs, who is now 41 and lives in Texas and trims trees for a living, told
me he confessed to the crime because he hadn’t slept in days and figured the
truth would come out. “I found my daughter,” he said. “She didn’t even have
eyes in her head. I was already broken. They didn’t have to break me.”
He said that he didn’t understand why Lake County wasn’t pursuing Torrez for
the crime, and that he had filed a lawsuit against the county for wrongful
“Why haven’t they charged him as fast as they railroaded me?” he said.
– Excerpt from “The
Prosecution’s Case Against DNA,” New York Times 11/25/11
Victims of the State,
Suburban Chicago Cases,
Son/Daughter Murder Cases