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Man Convicted in 2003 Slaying

Samuel Puebla, 19, could get a life sentence for the murder and attempted rape of a Fillmore High graduate.

August 03, 2004|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

A Ventura County jury convicted a Fillmore man Monday of first-degree murder and attempted rape in the New Year's Day 2003 slaying of college student Valerie Zavala.

Samuel Puebla, 19, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole at his sentencing, scheduled for Sept. 20. Although tried as an adult, he is not eligible for the death penalty because he was a juvenile at the time of the killing.

Puebla was a senior at Fillmore High School when he beat and strangled Zavala after the two left a New Year's Eve party in Fillmore. Zavala, 19, who was a sophomore at San Jose State University, had volunteered to drive Puebla and a girlfriend home after the party in the girlfriend's car. After dropping off the girlfriend, Zavala disappeared.

Her partially clothed body was found the next day, stuffed into a concrete drainage pipe under South Mountain Road between Santa Paula and Fillmore.

Jurors reached a decision about six hours after closing statements in the month-long trial in Ventura County Superior Court.

Zavala had been a cheerleader at Fillmore High School, where she graduated with honors. She was preparing for a career as an elementary schoolteacher and had served as the fundraising chairwoman for her sorority.

"She was a lovely, vivacious girl who really did nothing risky or out of the ordinary," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said after the verdict. "For both families, this has been incredibly tragic. Hopefully, this will bring a measure of closure.".

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