ZION, Illinois -- A former U.S. Marine pleaded guilty Tuesday to the Illinois murders of two little girls, one of whom's father was originally charged with the crime.
Nine-year-old Krystal Tobias and 8-year-old Laura Hobbs were murdered in 2005, and the plea Tuesday brought an end to a tortuous story of loss that gained national attention, both for the innocence of the victims and the mistakes of the justice system.
Jerry Hobbs discovered the bodies of his daughter Laura and her friend Krystal the day after Mother's Day in a park not far from their homes in Zion.
Suspicion immediately centered on the father as the killer, and after 24 hours of interrogation, Hobbs confessed to the murders. He spent five years in jail awaiting trial while the real killer, former Marine Jorge Avila-Torrez, was attacking and killing others.
In 2010, Torrez was convicted of slaying a sailor in northern Virginia, receiving a death sentence in addition to 168 years for stalking attacks on three other women, including one who was raped.
Three years earlier, DNA evidence from Laura's body was found not to belong to Jerry Hobbs. Yet Lake County prosecutors did not relent, confident they had their man. By 2010, they did drop charges against Hobbs -- the same year Torrez's DNA went into a national police database upon his arrest in Virginia.
That DNA matched that which was found on Laura Hobbs, and the convicted killer was extradited to Illinois where he has awaited trial ever since.
Torrez was a friend of Krystal's half brother and was 16 at the time of the double murder.
Jerry Hobbs sued for malicious prosecution and eventually settled for $8 million.
The case was the catalyst for reforms in Lake County justice. After Hobbs' conviction was overturned, there were four other cases where it was shown DNA evidence indicating innocence was ignored by the state's attorney at the time, Michael Waller.
In total, five men spent 80 combined years behind bars despite the DNA evidence.
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Ex-Marine pleads guilty to 2005 murders of girls, ages 8 and 9, in Illinois