San Angelo man becomes third sent to prison in 2017 kidnapping, murder of Abilene father

·7 min read

SAN ANGELO — One of five people charged in the brutal kidnapping, torture and murder of an Abilene father near San Angelo has become the third man sent to prison in the case on Friday.

On July 21, 2017, a series of events led Eric Torrez, a 41-year-old Abilene business owner, to be lured to San Angelo under false pretenses to bid on a job. Over the next several hours, Torrez was kidnapped and tortured in an attempt to find the location of his 4-year-old daughter.

Torrez was then killed and taken to a field south of Barnhart, where his body would not be found until Aug. 4, 2017.

On Friday, May 20, 2022, David Navarro attended a plea hearing via Zoom in the 51st District Court. He was initially charged with capital murder by terroristic threat or other felony and aggravated kidnapping in connection to Torrez's death. He also had a pending case for assault on a family/household member with previous conviction, which is a third-degree felony.

Navarro pleaded guilty to aggravated kidnapping and the assault. In exchange, state prosecutors suggested he be sentenced to 25 years in prison for the kidnapping and 2 years for the assault. He would also pay a fine of more than $8,600.

51st District Judge Carmen Dusek accepted the recommendation and sentenced him to those terms. Navarro became the second man in the case to be sent to prison last week, with Garry Jennings having been sentenced Monday.

Torrez's sister ended the hearing with a victim impact statement, as she had with the prior trials.

"(Eric) mattered to my family, and you took that," she said. "Your blatant disregard and disrespect for human life ... I hope you take this time to think about what you did and understand your actions have consequences."

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Cell phone data, texts, videos build timeline around Eric Torrez's death

Investigators reconstructed a timeline of Torrez's death using phone data collected from mobile devices belonging to Jennings, Navarro, Torrez and Wray, as well as surveillance videos recorded from nearby businesses. Information revealed in Stephen's trial also added to the timeline.

One woman, David Navarro's ex-girlfriend, told law enforcement Stephen mentioned wanting to harm "Kristen's ex" and "scar him" a year prior to the murder. She said Stephen Jennings wanted to kidnap Torrez, beat him up, and leave him somewhere, according to testimony she provided in December.

On July 20, 2017, Stephen, posing as "Daryl," contacted Torrez to meet in Abilene about a possible construction job. When Torrez arrived, Stephen said he couldn't meet. Stephen and Kristen then attempted to follow Torrez home, but testimony revealed the attempt was unsuccessful.

July 21

  • 8:17: Kristen and Garry are in Abilene, checking daycares.

  • 8:28 a.m. Kristen texts Stephen "(we) talked about the plan for 4 days."

  • 9:48 a.m.: Stephen texts Kristen “(expletive) it, let (Eric) come to the house.” Kristen testified this changed the plan. She did not want Torrez at their house.

  • Before 11 a.m.: Angella Wray said Stephen Jennings called her to ask if her ex could “back him up,” since Torrez was coming. Later, he asks if she could watch Kristen's kids.

  • 12:51 p.m.: Navarro arrived at the Jennings' residence.

  • 1:07 p.m.: Eric’s phone indicates he is in the area of the Jennings’ home. The last time his phone appears active is around 5:40 p.m. and had not moved.

  • During this time, Navarro helped Stephen restrain and torture Eric in the residence. Navarro's phone places him in the area. Some time in here, it is believed Garry helped in the torture and moved Eric's pickup down the road.

  • 2:38 p.m.: Stephen’s phone searches for Pioneer Drive Baptist Church.

  • 2:39 p.m.: David Navarro is seen entering Stripes Convenience Store, 1606 La Follette, and leaving at 2:42 p.m.

  • 2:48 p.m.: Kristen and Stephen's phones appear in the Duckworth Road area.

  • 4:45 p.m.: Kristen enters Torrez’s home, assaults his mother and takes the daughter. They start to head toward San Angelo. Within an hour, Stephen called Kristen and said Torrez is dead, she testified.

  • Around 6 p.m.: A friend of Navarro saw a video he had taken during the torturing of Torrez, which she later told law enforcement. The two met by the Walmart Neighborhood Market, 1852 Sherwood Way.

  • 7:51 p.m.: Home Depot video shows Stephen and Garry, and a Chrysler 200, at the store where they purchased heavy duty duct tape, blue self adhesive plastic film/carpet protector, latex gloves and bleach. Stephen was seen later that night in the same clothes at a Little Caesars.

A phone belonging to Stephen was in the area of Duckworth Road for most of the day, while Dean and Garry's phones were shown traveling between Abilene and San Angelo.

From the afternoon until the pre-dawn hours of July 22, Wray testified Kristen and her two children were at her house. Kristen had the 4-year-old and her younger son.

July 22:

  • 2:24 a.m.: Stephen and the Chrysler are seen on video at Stripes, 5655 Sherwood Way. Video shows Stephen gets gas while a passenger door appeared to open, indicating a passenger, officials said.

  • 3:30-4:15 a.m.: Phone information shows Stephen on State Highway 163, south of Barnhart. This is the area where Torrez's remains would be found on Aug. 4, 2017.

  • 10:14 a.m.: Garry and Stephen enter the Ballinger Stripes on Hutchins Avenue, according to video surveillance. Stephen’s phone also shows him on this road through 10:23 a.m.

  • 10:22 a.m.: Video from Jehovah Witness Church in Ballinger shows a gray pickup matching Torrez's driving toward the Walmart, followed by a silver car.

It was the first day law enforcement arrived at the residence in search of Eric Torrez. No one answers.

Investigators searched the Duckworth residence three times — July 25, 27, and Aug. 11, 2017. During those searches, Torrez's hair and blood were found on walls and in part of a mop bucket.

On Aug. 4, 2017, more information and interviews led officials to Torrez’s remains in a pasture south of Barnhart in Crockett County, 289 feet from a fence.

What happens next for Kristen Dean and Angella Wray?

Dean, Navarro and Wray were offered plea bargains in exchange for testifying at Stephen's trial. Wray and Navarro also testified against Garry. Each received an immunity agreement in which the state would not pursue additional charges.

Dean's plea bargain suggests 30 years for pleading guilty to a lesser murder charge and 20 years for aggravated kidnapping.

Wray's offer recommended 10 years deferred adjudication for engaging in organized criminal activity. This is a type of probation that could help Wray avoid conviction if she adheres to conditions dictated by the state. The kidnapping charge could also be waived.

Garry and Stephen Jennings sentenced in Eric Torrez's death

On Dec. 10, 2021, 340th District Judge Jay Weatherby sentenced Stephen Jennings to life in prison without parole for both capital murder and aggravated kidnapping, as well as 20 years for tampering — the maximum sentences that could be delivered after prosecutors waived the death penalty.

On May 13, 2022, Garry Jennings was sentenced to 20 years each for murder, aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence. This is the maximum sentence that could be given for tampering.

Case coverage timeline:

May 14, 2022: Second man sentenced in 2017 San Angelo kidnapping, murder of Abilene father

Dec. 30, 2021: Life sentences to not guilty: Here's a look Tom Green County's biggest 2021 court cases

Dec. 14, 2021: Jury delivers guilty verdict in San Angelo murder, kidnapping, and torture of Abilene man

March 7, 2019: Court makes crucial ruling on DNA testing of 5 charged in murder, torture of Abilene man

Dec. 7, 2018: DNA continues to stall trials for five people accused in Abilene man's killing

July 30, 2018: Trials in Abilene man's slaying could take years as court grapples with scant DNA evidence

July 18, 2018: San Angelo man in court over brutal torture, kidnapping and execution of Abilene resident

Oct. 5, 2017: Five indicted in connection with Abilene man's death

Aug. 9, 2017: Two men charged with murder in Abilene man's death

Aug. 4, 2017: Body of missing Abilene man believed found near Barnhart

Aug. 3, 2017: Missing Abilene man believed slain, investigators say

Alana Edgin is a journalist covering Crime and Courts in West Texas. Send her a news tip at aedgin@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: San Angelo man becomes third sent to prison in murder, torture case