Jerry Hobbs

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 penalty.

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 reasonable doubt.

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 prosecution.

“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  [12/11]

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Suburban Chicago Cases, Son/Daughter Murder Cases