TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — A move by a California parole board to recommend the release of a Tulare County man convicted of torturing and murdering a Black teen has drawn the ire of the county’s District Attorney.
The board recommended the release of Gerardo Zavala, 48, on Oct. 6 over the strident objection of prosecutors, said District Attorney Tim Ward. Parole was first recommended for him in 2017, but former Gov. Jerry Brown overturned the decision in 2018.
In 2001, Zavala and two others lured 17-year-old Eric Jones to a Delano residence to smoke methamphetamine.
When they got to the garage, they were met with others who then jumped Jones while hurling racial epithets and accused him of conspiring to steal their property, the DA’s office said. 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, officials said Jones was bound in duct tape and tossed into a car trunk, taken to a remote road outside Allensworth and shot 10 times at point-blank range, killing him.
The DA’s office reported that he was found with the words “Pepe’s Bitch” written on his back.
Zavala was later arrested and confessed to being a part of the torture and murder.
David Alavezos, the assistant DA at the time, prosecuted five of the men involved in the mid-2000s and argued against Zavala’s release at the hearing, the DA’s office said. 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 by officials to have fled to Mexico.
“Unless Governor Newsom overturns the parole board’s recommendation, another murderer will be released,” Ward said. “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.”
The DA said his office will again appeal to Newsom to overturn the parole board’s decision.