By Kathy Jefcoats
Putting an end to what he called a "gut-wrenching" case, Judge Arch McGarity sentenced a Griffin man to life without parole after he pleaded guilty Friday to killing a woman at the Atlanta Motor Speedway almost two years ago.
Toby Dearing, 26, did not react to the ruling and displayed no emotion during the hearing in Henry Superior Court even as Flint District Attorney Tommy Floyd pounded him with questions about the strangulation of Alisson Alvarez, 19.
"You don't recall striking her about her head and face hard enough to kill her?" Floyd asked, incredulous. "You choked the life out of her because of what?"
"I don't know, sir," Dearing said from the stand.
"Do you have that picture in your mind?" asked Floyd.
"I sleep with it, sir," he responded.
The plea agreement allowed Dearing to avoid the death penalty, which he could have gotten had the case gone to trial.
Although Dearing pleaded guilty to murder, kidnapping with bodily injury and aggravated battery, the hearing did not answer many questions as to why he targeted Alvarez. In fact, he stuck to his original story that the Colombian native solicited him for sex at the racetrack.
Alvarez and her fiance, Josh Samples, were attending a race event at the Hampton track Sept. 21 when she asked him to hold her purse and cell phone while she sought a bathroom. He never saw her alive again. Dearing was a subcontractor working at the track, getting around in a golf cart.
He testified that she waved him down in a closed-off section of the track and asked where she was.
"I asked her what she was looking for and she said ?a good time,'" Dearing testified, adding that Alvarez quoted him $20 for oral sex and $50 for intercourse. He said he agreed to oral sex but later decided to pay the higher price for "sex sex" to get even with his wife whom he said cheated on him while he was in prison.
Dearing said they went looking for an area away from everybody and ended up in an unlocked suite. He testified that she willingly undressed and sat on a couch beside him.
"She reached inside my pants but I pushed her off me," Dearing said. "I snapped. I realized I couldn't cheat on my wife. I stood up."
The next thing he said he remembered was putting her in a headlock from behind. He said he blacked out and when he came to, she was dead and he was holding her sock in his hand.
"I left her in the room, I was scared to death," he said.
When he went home that night, Dearing told his wife that he'd killed someone and didn't know what to do. Her response "She asked me if I left fingerprints. I told her I thought I did and she said I better get rid of them," he said.
Stephanie Dearing drove her husband back to the track late that night and waited as he returned to the room to wipe it clean, testified Dearing. It was then that he moved the body the first time, to bleachers.
Back at home, Dearing told his wife he thought he left the light on in the room and she told him to call his brother, Josh Dearing, to return to the track. The brothers first stopped off at the nearby Waffle House and asked about cleaning materials.
Taking cleaning supplies with them, they went to the room where Toby Dearing sprayed and wiped down surfaces.
"What was your brother doing?" Floyd asked.
"Just standing there, he didn't believe what I had done," said Dearing.
Dearing took his brother to see the body and moved it again, he said, so she could be found.
Floyd asked Dearing about her clothes and why she was wearing only one sock. Dearing had no answer, recalling only that he found an earring in the room the second time he returned.
"I didn't want anything to remind me," he said. "I didn't want to remember anything about it."
"You didn't want to remember anything," Floyd replied, his voice rising in exasperation. He returned to the prosecution table. "I don't have anything else."
Dearing's parents and sister took the stand to plead for a life with parole sentence, painting him as loving father who would never hurt anyone but McGarity was more swayed by a mental evaluation report.
"I am concerned about these blackouts," he said. "There is much more revealed in the psychological evaluations than was revealed by family members."
Survivors speak out
Alisson Alvarez had been in this country for four years before she was beaten and strangled by a stranger. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Alvarez was 19 and engaged to Josh Samples. She lived with him and his parents, Mike and Margaret Samples, in Duluth, and worked two jobs to prepare for her American dream.
As the first grandchild, Alvarez was the star, a light brought to her family's lives, said Miami resident Hernando Hernandez. Hernandez is Alvarez' mother's brother and her closest relative in America. She lived with him for two years in Miami.
"She was trying to run away from all the violence in Colombia," Hernandez testified Friday. "She wanted to work hard, find love and peace here. Look what she found instead."
In giving his impact statement, Hernandez said Dearing not only killed his niece but destroyed the whole family.
"My sister still can't believe what happened," he said. "Not only has this affected our family but her friends too. We are just devastated. I really wish he could be dead but I am not God. Justice has to be done and done well."
Hernandez said he didn't want Dearing to ever walk free again and addressed him personally before leaving the stand.
"People say there is a jungle out there and it is because there's animals like you," he said. "Say the truth for once in your life."
Margaret Samples also took the stand and pleaded for life without parole. She said her son has not dealt with the death and could not attend the sentencing.
"He still blames himself," she said. "He talks as if she's just gone to her mother's, that she's alive and coming back to him some day."
Her husband attended but was too emotional to address the court.
"I'm angry," he said afterward, breaking down in tears. "I was afraid I would say something that would hurt the case. I don't want anyone to think I let her down by not getting up there."
Hernandez put his hands together in prayer and looked heavenward when he realized Dearing got life with no possibility for parole.
"I can't believe it," he said, crying. "My head is spinning. I ask God to bring me peace."
All three were angered by Dearing's insistence that Alvarez propositioned him.
"That was very, very offensive," said Hernandez. "How low can a person go? I want to not remember what he said."
Floyd said during the sentencing that the state did not believe Dearing's version of what happened.
"We do not believe she was prostituting herself," Floyd said. "She was not exchanging money for sex."
The survivors were also not sympathetic to his family's pleas for mercy, especially as a father to a young girl.
"He gets to see his daughter on Monday," Margaret Samples said. "We'll never see Alisson again. She'll never have a baby, never get to marry Josh like they planned."
Dearing's wife and brother still face charges of tampering with evidence.