UPDATE: The final day of a 6-day trial nearly 5 years in the making ended just after noon Monday with a man sent to prison for decades.
During the punishment phase for Garry Jennings, who was found guilty on Friday, the jury heard testimonies from his family, and the family of Eric Torrez.
Joshua Jennings, Garry's son, spoke on his father's behalf. He described Garry as a hardworking, fair and just man who helped recently released convicts learn how to become productive citizens.
Garry's ex-wife also spoke for him, and mentioned that she wasn't sure what she would have done if she had been in his place.
"I think he got in a situation none of us want to get involved in, and I don't know how I would've (responded)," she said.
John Sutton, Garry's attorney, suggested to the jury that no amount of time in prison would bring Eric Torrez back, nor undo the family's pain.
"You're not here to give the longest sentence to show you can," Sutton said to the jury in closing arguments. "You're not going to deter anyone."
John Best refuted this, telling the jury its job is "to send a message" and asked what message they wanted to give.
In an hour and six minutes, the jury decided that message by sentencing Garry Jennings to 20 years each for murder, aggravated kidnapping, and tampering with evidence.
Eric Torrez's sister, who issued a victim impact statement in the trial of Stephen Jennings in December, took the stand again Monday. As she sat where various witnesses and experts had for the last week, she looked directly at Garry Jennings.
"You, as a father, can now hold the title of murderer," she said. "On Friday, I was asked if I was happy with the verdict. No. I'm satisfied with you going to prison ... but I hope you never see the free world again. The only justice I will be happy with is the day you leave this world."
SAN ANGELO — It took a jury 47 minutes to determine Garry Jennings, one of five people charged in the brutal kidnapping and murder of an Abilene man in 2017, was guilty on all charges Friday afternoon.
On July 21, 2017, a series of events led Eric Torrez, a 41-year-old Abilene business owner and father, to be lured to San Angelo to bid on a construction 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.
Over the course of the investigation, five people were arrested: Kristen Dean, the mother of Torrez's daughter; Stephen Jennings, Dean's husband at the time; Garry Jennings, Stephen's father; David Navarro, Stephen's friend; and Angella Wray, who Dean had babysat for in the past.
Garry Jennings was charged with murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and tampering with a human corpse.
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What led to the jury's verdict of Garry Jennings?
Over the course of the trial against Garry Jennings, which began at 9 a.m. Monday, May 9, 2022, the jury heard from forensic experts, law enforcement, witnesses and co-defendants. Jennings, who is from Red Oak, entered a plea of not guilty to murder, aggravated kidnapping and tampering with a human corpse that morning.
New details came to light, including how Garry Jennings moved Torrez's pickup down the road prior to them getting the daughter. He also moved the pickup to Ballinger and left it in the Walmart parking lot, and told investigators he helped clean the blood from the house.
The defense, in a similar move to the December trial of Stephen Jennings, put no one on the stand. Their defense was that Garry did not know this would happen, did not load the body into the vehicle, nor was he the one who decided to harm Torrez.
"Garry is not the one who made the decision," said John Sutton, Garry's attorney, during closing arguments. "Yes, he should have had the sense to walk away. Garry did bad things that day, but he didn't kill Eric."
Sutton also argued that Garry Jennings helped investigators find the general area where Eric's body was found, met with officers, and attempted to convince Stephen Jennings not to get involved.
119th District Attorney John Best, representing the state, described how officials believe Garry Jennings took part in the torture, which led to them getting the location of the daughter's daycare.
"(Stephen Jennings and David Navarro) were torturing Eric. They had to get the address, and they couldn't get it," Best said. "Navarro saw Garry in the house, wearing yellow gloves. (Navarro) leaves … and they get the address."
Much of the evidence centered on cell phone data, from texts to location data.
"Thank goodness for cell phones," Best said as his final statement. "Without them, we could not have seen into the minds of these criminals."
The jury went into deliberations at 4:15 p.m. and delivered the guilty verdict at 5:02 p.m. Friday, May 13.
The court will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Monday, May 16, to listen to more testimonies for the punishment phase before deciding on a sentence.
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.
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.
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. Kristen testified this is when Garry went into the house and returned with the addresses.
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.
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, David Navarro, 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.
Court documents show Navarro’s plea bargain includes 25 years in jail, and the capital murder charge will be waived. His plea hearing will not happen until Kristen Dean and Garry Jennings’ cases have been resolved.
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.
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As of 6:02 p.m., Friday, no plea hearings have been set for the three, according to online court records.
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.
Case coverage timeline:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: Second man found guilty in 2017 kidnapping, murder of Abilene father