Convicted Tulare County murderer up for parole

Tulare County prosecutors argue against parole board’s recommendation to release Gerardo Zavala who murdered a Black teenager in 2001

VISALIA – With inmates popping out of prison like a Pez dispenser, Tulare County prosecutors are trying to put the brakes on the advancement of one potential parolee.

The California Parole Board has recommended the release of convicted murderer Gerardo Zavala, 48, on Oct. 6. Since then prosecutors in Tulare County have been working with the governor’s office to overturn the board’s recommendation. Parole was first recommended for Zavala in 2017, but was overturned by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2018 after prosecutors appealed the decision.

“Unless Governor Newsom overturns the parole board’s recommendation, another murderer will be released. How the board failed to take a stand for Eric, an innocent 17-year-old young man who was brutally tortured, sodomized, and executed, is beyond comprehension. We will again be appealing to the governor to overturn this decision,” Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said.

Zavala’s case reaches all the way back to 2001, where he captured and tortured a young Black teenage in Delano. According to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, on Jan. 24, 2001, Zavala and two others lured 17-year-old African-American minor Eric Jones to a Delano residence to smoke meth.

When they arrived, they went into the garage where others were waiting. The group jumped Jones while hurling racial epithets and accused him of conspiring to steal their property. Threatening Jones with an AK-47, the group began to brutally torture him with electrocution from live wires, repeatedly inserted a squeegee handle into his rectum, and beat him with a pipe—all crimes assisted by Zavala.

After hours of torture, Jones was bound in duct tape and thrown into a car trunk, taken to a remote road outside Allensworth, and shot 10 times at point-blank range, killing him. He was found with the words “Pepe’s Bitch” written on his back. Zavala was arrested on Jan. 28, 2001, and confessed to being part of the torture and murder.

Assistant district attorney David Alavezos prosecuted five of the men involved in the mid-2000’s, and argued against Zavala’s release at the hearing. Alavezos described the crime scene as. “the worst I have ever seen.”

A jury convicted Zavala in 2006 of second-degree murder, torture and kidnapping. He was sentenced to 18 years-to-life in prison. Co-defendants Jorge Vidal, Keith Seriales, and Daniel Portugal were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Another co-defendant, Tyrone Ebaniz, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon. Brothers Juan and Gerardo Soto, also involved in the crime, are believed to have fled to Mexico.

“In 2020 we have witnessed the tidal wave of commentary and protests that purport police officers are what is wrong with our justice system in America. Instead, decisions like this should remind us that the complete dismissal of the gravity of crime and the impact it has on victims, their families, and our communities is the glaring problem with our justice system,” Ward said.

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