After four years and “hundreds of hours” spent searching for missing 9-year-old Diana Alvarez, Florida authorities announced this week that they have found the little girl’s remains—and her accused killer may now face the death penalty.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office told The Daily Beast a team of surveyors working in a wooded area in Osceola County found Alvarez’s body on Thursday, about 140 miles from her Fort Myers home, where she vanished in the middle of the night in May 2016. Her cause of death has not yet been determined, a sheriff’s office spokesperson said.
“My daughter is in heaven. She’s with God,” Diana’s mother, Rita Hernandez, told WINK after the discovery. “I don’t wish this upon anybody, on nobody because it wasn’t her fault.”
Jorge Guerrero-Torres, a 32-year-old family friend who previously admitted to sexually assaulting the girl, was indicted by a grand jury on a first-degree murder charge on May 3, 2018, in connection with Alvarez’s disappearance. He has been previously convicted on child pornography charges related to the case and is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence.
The State Attorney’s office will now seek the death penalty for Guerrero, who has been awaiting trial on the murder charge, a spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
“The monster that committed this horrendous crime is behind bars and will now be brought to justice for the murder of Diana Alvarez,” Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said during a Saturday news conference. “This does not bring Diana back, but I hope this helps bring closure to the family.”
On May 29, 2016, authorities kicked off a massive, multi-county search that attracted hundreds of volunteers after the 9-year-old’s family reported her missing.
During the investigation, deputies discovered that Guerrero-Torres, then 28, had lived with the Alvarez family, but was kicked out after engaging in an “inappropriate relationship” with the 9-year-old child, authorities said. Investigators also discovered pornographic images of Alvarez on Guerrero-Torres’ phone.
According to NBC Miami, Guerrero-Torres made “admissions” during a police interview early in the investigation that put him with Alvarez the morning she went missing. He also admitted to having had sexual contact with the girl on a weekly basis for several months.
In August 2017, about a year after Alvarez’s disappearance, Guerrero-Torres was convicted of several federal child pornography charges related to the photographs of Alvarez and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Despite the momentous discovery of Alvarez’s body, Guerrero-Torres’ murder case will not go to court for several months because of new court restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a case management hearing on Monday, Lee County Circuit courtroom Judge Margaret O. Steinbeck requested a month-long delay after both prosecutors and the defense expressed difficulties with travel, gathering evidence for the trial, and completing the autopsy report for the 9-year-old due to the coronavirus.
The Lee County Clerk of Court also told The Daily Beast on Tuesday all jury selection for upcoming criminal trials will be suspended for at least three weeks.
Guerrero-Torres is set to return to court on April 27.