Zara's Killing a 'Slaughter,' Prosecutor Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eighteen-year-old William Zara was "slaughtered" at the hands of a bloodthirsty mob that beat him with a shovel and a baseball bat, cracking his skull and leaving him to die in front of his Ventura apartment, a prosecutor charged Wednesday.

In closing arguments, the prosecutor said Zara tried to defend himself from his attackers but was quickly overcome by the "feeding frenzy" that surrounded him.

"This [was] a pack of dogs ripping into this kid," Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Haney said. "He died in a brutal, horrific, prolonged beating."

The closing arguments mark the end of a seven-week trial of four defendants accused of killing Zara in September 1999.

Rosana and Frank Olvera, Benny Lopez and Terry Paul Schell are all charged with murder and conspiracy, and a special allegation for committing the crime in association with a gang. Lopez, 20, and Schell, 23, are admitted gang members. They all face life sentences if convicted.

Jurors are expected to begin deliberations today after defense attorneys finish their closing arguments in Ventura County Superior Court.

Zara, a popular stagehand at the Ventura Theatre, died Sept. 26, 1999, from massive head injuries. Prosecutors maintain that the defendants fatally beat him because they mistakenly thought he had called police to complain about loud noise at their party.

But the defense says Zara's death was not the result of a gang attack but rather a neighborhood dispute that turned violent.

The only defense lawyer who gave a closing argument Wednesday, Charles Cassy, told jurors that his client, Frank Olvera, was in the courtyard that night but did not deliver any fatal blows. He said Olvera, 34, is a hard-working man who is not part of a gang.

"This is really a situation of mistaken identity," he said. "Frank Olvera is not the person who hit Bill Zara with the shovel."

Cassy said Olvera would have had more blood on him had he slammed Zara with the shovel. The attorney said the small spot of Zara's blood on his client's shirt came from brushing against Schell, whom Olvera testified stabbed Zara with a knife.

But Haney attacked Olvera's testimony, calling him the "poster child for perjury."

Relatives of Zara and the defendants packed the courtroom Wednesday to watch the summations. During a four-hour closing argument, Haney meticulously described the events that occurred on Sept. 25, 1999, showing pictures of the apartment courtyard, the witnesses, the defendants and finally Zara's autopsy.

That night, the defendants were drinking and partying at the Olveras' house while Zara and his friends smoked pot and played video games across the street, Haney said.

Just before 9:30 p.m., police responded to a call to break up a party in the 200 block of East Warner on Ventura's west side. A few minutes later, Rosana Olvera and three others stormed over to Zara's apartment complex yelling and looking for the person who had called police.

Rosana Olvera, 37, started hitting a teenage friend of Zara, initiating the fight prosecutors say prompted the deadly pandemonium. "There was an explosion in that courtyard," Haney said. "And defendant Rosana Olvera was the fuse."

Haney said that even though Rosana Olvera did not directly participate in the fatal beating, she is just as guilty. "But for Rosana, Bill Zara would be alive today."

By the time Zara emerged from his apartment holding a bat, several of his friends were battling with the party-goers from across the street. Prosecutors said the crowd surrounded Zara, and then Lopez grabbed the bat and knocked Zara in the head with it, delivering the "death blow." They also said Schell, who had Zara's blood on his pants, kicked and punched Zara, and Frank Olvera hit Zara with the shovel.

Within a few minutes, Zara lay unconscious in a pool of blood with his terrified friends crying and holding him, Haney said. The attackers then fled into a nearby orchard, where they buried the bat and discarded the shovel.

The prosecutor scoffed at the idea that the assault was a mutual fight. "No way," Haney said. "That is a joke. This was an utter invasion."

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