Tamron Hall of Deadline: Crime on Investigation Discovery covered the case of Petty Officer Amanda Jean Snell in an episode titled “Capital Predator”. She began with highlighting the death of Amanda Snell in 2009 at Keith Hall Barracks at Joint Base Myer-Henderson in Arlington, Virginia. After Amanda didn’t show up to work at the Pentagon on July 13th, her co-workers went looking for her at the barracks. They found her door ajar and Amanda stuffed in her locker with a pillow case over her head. Amanda lived in co-ed barracks with male soldiers on the same floor. Because the crime occurred on a federal base, Naval Criminal Investigation Services (NCIS) was called to the scene to investigate.
NCIS questioned many people at the barracks about the Amanda Jean Snell murder but came up with nothing significant to help them solve who did it. Tamron Hall reported that there was a division between the NCIS investigators. Some thought she committed suicide, others thought she was murdered. Meanwhile, Jorge Torrez offered to help NCIS in any way that he could. They took him up on the offer and asked him to spread a rumor that a witness saw someone enter Amanda Snell’s room the night she was killed. They were hoping to cause panic, instead they told the actual killer they had nothing. Her sheets and other belongings were collected as evidence. After months, NCIS still had got nowhere with the case and it eventually went cold.
About six months later in 2010, the Arlington Police Department learned that a nurse on her way home from work was attacked by a hispanic man in a light colored SUV. She was on her way to her boyfriend’s house. She chose to walk that night. The assailant told her he had a gun as he approached her from behind and used it to direct her towards his SUV. As they got close to the SUV, he pulled out a knife. She refused to get in his SUV and threw her purse at him as she ran toward her boyfriend’s house, despite his threats. She thought if he’s going to shoot me, he’s going to shoot me in the back while I am running. Once she got to safety, they called the police. She got a good look at him and was able to describe his features to the Arlington Police Department. Meanwhile, two different police officers in Arlington noticed while on shift that a hispanic man in a SUV was acting suspiciously. He appeared to be on the hunt and was even found waiting outside a bar watching the patrons as they entered and exited the bars. They ran his license plate number but there were no outstanding warrants. The police did not make the connection yet.
Two weeks after the nurse was attacked and narrowly escaped, two more women, Julie Thomas and Karen Marlotti, were targeted in the same residential area, which was considered a safe area. While Marlotti was looking for the keys to her home, the assailant came from out of nowhere brandishing a gun and directed them to enter Marlotti’s house. He tied one up with the cord from an iron and the other up with a cord from the vacuum cleaner. He took them both upstairs to one of the bedrooms. While he left to get some duct tape, they called the police. He caught them in the act of calling the police and became angry. He grabbed Julie, the smaller of the two women, and left the residence. He forced her into the car at gunpoint, drove to a parking lot, and raped her. He then took her out of the car as if he was going to let her go but instead strangled her, leaving her for dead. Then he left.
Julie did not die. According to the medical staff, she was two seconds away from dying. But she found the strength to get up and look for help. She flagged down a motorist who called the police. Based on the descriptions from the nurse, Karen, and now Julie of both the assailant and the vehicle he drove, police began to make the connections between those who had been attacked. They put out an all points bulletin for the man they suspected of committing the crimes and his vehicle. The two officers who noted that they had witnessed a suspicious vehicle while on their shifts made the connection. Luckily, they ran the SUV’s license plate. That’s when they learned that this was Jorge Alvarez Torrez. The victims were asked to pick out the person who they thought attacked them and they all picked Jorge. He was arrested and sent to jail while he awaited his trial.
While Jorge Torrez was in jail, he tried to elicit the help of other inmates to hire a hitman to kill the three witnesses who were going to testify against him in court. The inmates seized an opportunity to snitch him out and agreed to wear a wire for future conversations. Torrez not only discussed his desire to hire a hitman to kill the three witnesses but he also bragged about killing Amanda Jean Snell at the Navy base. Police learned that Jorge Torrez lived on the same floor as Amanda Snell at the time of the murder. They had to coordinate with NCIS to gain access to the Jorge Torrez case on the base. At the time of the original arrest, the Arlington police department collected DNA evidence from Jorge and it was entered into the national DNA database. It eventually came back with a hit connecting him to two more 2005 murders of small children in Zion, Illinois where he was from.
Jorge Torrez went to trial for the attacks on the three women in the Arlington area and got multiple life sentences for his crimes. Eventually, NCIS either tested the evidence collected at the scene and/or compared it against the DNA on file in the national DNA database. The DNA testing came back with a match. They found Jorge Torrez’s DNA on Amanda Snell’s sheets. Between the DNA evidence and the confession made to the jailhouse snitches, the federal government was able to move forward with a case for Amanda Snell’s murder and they asked for the death penalty. He was found guilty of the crime and sentenced to death in 2014. Officials in Zion, Illinois vowed to try him for the murders of the two children as well. He was tried for these crimes too and found guilty. Jorge Torrez currently sits on death row.
This case reveals a common pattern and theme we see with military investigations. It appears military investigators are prone to writing off a case to suicide or natural causes as evidenced by the NCIS command in this case. Maybe not enough attention was paid to this case because instead of investigating, they were arguing about whether this death was murder, suicide, or natural causes. Why didn’t they rely on the autopsy report to help them make an assessment? The cause of death was “undetermined” yet some investigators were quick to write it off as a suicide or natural causes, only a few felt that it was a homicide. How many NCIS investigators were involved in this case? They collected evidence at the scene. They may or may not have sent the evidence to a crime lab for thorough forensic testing. Did they test for DNA at the time of the murder in 2010 or did they wait until they learned that Jorge Torrez was most likely responsible for the murder of Amanda Snell? NCIS was approached by Jorge Torrez who lived on the same floor as Amanda. He attempted to inject himself into the investigation by offering to help. Instead of seeing this as a red flag, they took him up on his offer and asked him to spread a rumor that a witness saw someone enter her room on the night of the murder. Their motive was to instill panic in an attempt to ferret out the killer instead they told the murderer they had nothing.
NCIS bungled this investigation in multiple ways. They did not see the actions of Jorge Torrez as suspicious when he offered to help and agreed to spread the rumor. Most experienced investigators would see this as a red flag and begin investigating that individual to see why they were injecting themselves into the case. Quite often the perpetrator offers to help police with investigations in an effort to stay apprised of what they know. The investigators asked Torrez to spread a rumor. In effect, they admitted to the killer that they had no evidence and no idea who committed this crime. Detectives quite often call the bluff of the those they are questioning by claiming that they have evidence they don’t in order to elicit a confession. They could no longer call anyone’s bluff. NCIS didn’t depend on the results of a forensic autopsy, instead they argued about whether it was suicide or murder. And lastly, if they did test for DNA evidence in the Amanda Snell case, they did not enter it into the national DNA database. If they did, they would have got a hit on the two murders in Illinois in 2005.
This case illustrates the major investigative blunders perpetrated by NCIS and is a testament to the importance of attention to detail and outsmarting the criminal. This case demonstrates how important it is to properly investigate a death no matter what the cause, conduct a forensic autopsy to determine cause of death, collect DNA evidence at the scene (if there is any), and compare any DNA evidence found at the scene against the national DNA database. If NCIS had tested and entered the results of the DNA into the national DNA database in 2010, they would have learned that it matched two murders from 2005. If they were paying attention to detail, they would have been suspicious that Jorge Torrez offered to help with the investigation. If they were serious about finding a killer, they would have made a connection that Jorge Torrez lives on the same floor as Amanda Snell and he just happens to be from Zion, Illinois where two small children were murdered in 2005. Comparing the DNA at the time of the crime quite possibly could have prevented three other civilian women from Arlington, Virginia from becoming his next victims, one strangled and left for dead.