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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Victim Was Surrounded, Witness Says

Court: Woman testifies she saw at least one defendant in murder trial swing a shovel at 18-year-old William Zara, who was killed in 1999.

April 20, 2001|ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Moments after her friend was beaten with a bat and a shovel, 21-year-old Lisa Bean ran outside and saw him on the sidewalk shaking. Blood was coming from his head and his eyes were rolling back in his head.

She tried to talk to him but he only moaned softly. William Zara, an 18-year-old stagehand at the Ventura Theatre, died on Sept. 26, 1999.

Bean testified Thursday in the murder trial of four people accused in Zara's death: Frank Olvera, 34; Rosana Olvera, 37; Terry Schell, 23; and Benny Lopez, 19. The defendants, who were indicted by a grand jury, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit an assault. They are also charged with special gang-related allegations. If convicted, they could each be sentenced to prison for life.

Prosecutors say the defendants killed Zara during a gang attack in Ventura because they mistakenly thought he had called the police to quiet a party being held in memory of a slain gang member. Defense attorneys say Zara died after a spontaneous neighborhood brawl fueled by alcohol and drugs.

Bean's testimony bolstered the prosecution's version of Zara's death as a gang assault. However, she was not definite about the identities of Zara's assailants.

Bean, who was dating Zara's roommate at the time, said she and her friends had smoked marijuana for several hours that day. A frequent pot user, she admitted feeling "zoned out" as police officers came to the door.

The officers had responded to a 911 call about a loud party on East Warner Street. But they left after failing to find a party either at the Olveras' house or at the apartment complex across the street, where Zara and his friends lived. A few minutes later, Bean said, she heard a woman in the apartment courtyard yelling, demanding to know why somebody had called the police.

When she heard a crashing noise, Bean ran outside and saw a woman hitting her friend, 17-year-old Ciara Hall, who was curled up on the ground, she testified. She said she also saw two Latino men attacking her boyfriend.

Attempting to stop the attack, Bean was knocked to the ground, where she said she was hit and kicked by as many as three people before retreating inside.

From a window, she saw Zara step outside his apartment, holding a bat. He was surrounded by eight or 10 people, she testified.

"They looked like a bunch of rats going for a piece of cheese," she said. "They looked zealous."

Though she had trouble picking the defendants out of a lineup shortly after Zara's death, Bean stood up in the courtroom Thursday and pointed out Rosana Olvera as the woman who pushed Hall and Frank Olvera as the one who swung a shovel at Zara.

Bean said she knew the Olveras by sight as the people who lived in the house across the street, but admitted that she didn't immediately identify them to officers.

Defense attorneys questioned Bean about conflicting statements she made to detectives and to the grand jury. For example, Bean told detectives that Hall and Rosana Olvera were arguing. But on the witness stand Thursday, she said Olvera was yelling and Hall was trying to calm her down.

The trial, which is expected to last more than two months, will resume Monday.

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