A former Marine already sentenced to death in the slaying of a sailor in Virginia pleaded not guilty on Thursday in the 2005 slayings of two young Illinois girls who were playing in a forest preserve.

The plea by Jorge Torrez, 26, comes days after he was returned from Virginia by the Lake County State's Attorney, who has vowed to try him even though he received the death penalty in Virginia.

Authorities contend that 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and 9-year-old Krystal Tobias were playing in the forest preserve in Zion, where they lived, on Mother's Day of 2005 when Torrez, at the time a 16-year-old friend of Tobias' older brother, allegedly stabbed them to death.

The girls' killings generated national media attention, both because of the brutality of the crime and because Laura Hobbs' father, Jerry Hobbs, was charged in the slayings after giving what he said was a false confession. Hobbs spent five years in jail before DNA evidence from his daughter's body linked Torrez to the crime.

Earlier this year, Torrez, a native of Zion, was convicted in federal court in the slaying of a sailor at a barracks in northern Virginia. During the sentencing phase of the trial, prosecutors told jurors that Torrez had killed the two girls. They showed jurors photos of one of the girl's bodies that had stab wounds and told them that Torrez had confessed to a fellow inmate that he stabbed the girls.

Illinois does not have a death penalty, but even before Torrez was convicted in Virginia, Lake County State's Attorney Mike Nerheim said he intended to bring Torrez back to the state to stand trial and that the girl's families supported his decision and even sent one of his prosecutors to observe part of Torrez' trial in Virginia.

"This is important to the victims' families, to the entire community," said Nerheim, who was not state's attorney when Jerry Hobbs was arrested. "There are few things that can be worse than two little girls murdered on Mother's Day and I do think this will be part of the healing process and bring closure."

Torrez was sentenced to death in Virginia for the murder of Navy Petty Officer Amanda Snell, a Las Vegas native, at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, in a barracks where the two lived a few doors down from each other.