On November 9th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments challenging the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences. In preparation for oral arguments, JLWOP: Faces & Cases will be an on-going series on The Foundry that will tell real stories about juvenile offenders who are currently serving LWOP sentences.
Defendant: Samuel Puebla (17)
Victim: Valerie Zavala
Crimes: First degree murder, attempted rape and felony murder
Crime date: January 1, 2003 in Fillmore, California
Samuel Puebla attempted to rape a college student whom he met at a party and, when she resisted, beat her head and chest before strangling her to death with his bare hands.
Valerie Zavala was an attractive 19-year-old student attending college in San Jose, California. She had graduated from Fillmore High School and was returning home to visit her family during the Christmas and New Year’s break.
On December 31, 2002, Zavala attended a New Year’s Eve party at the home of a friend in Fillmore. There she ran into Puebla, a senior at Fillmore High School. At around 2 a.m., as the party was winding down, Puebla asked Zavala for a ride home. Zavala agreed and offered to drive an intoxicated female friend to her home, too. After dropping off her friend, she set off for Puebla’s home.
As Zavala was driving, Puebla attempted to sexually assault her. When Zavala resisted, Puebla choked her until she fell unconscious for a short period of time. After she came to, she managed to escape Puebla and ran.
Puebla chased Zavala and caught her in the parking lot of a nearby church. He struck her head with such force that it ruptured her eardrum. Zavala fell to the ground. Puebla ripped off her clothing, yanked out her tampon, and attempted to rape her, without success. Zavala struggled to defend herself, but Puebla struck her repeatedly on the head, sat on her chest, and ultimately strangled her with his hands.
Puebla dumped Zavala’s body in a drainage culvert, where a jogger found it the next morning.
A search of the crime scene produced Zavala’s earring, tampon, and underwear. Trace, circumstantial, and biological evidence, including DNA, connected Puebla to the crimes, and he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
Charles D. Stimson is Senior Legal Fellow and Andrew M. Grossman is Senior Legal Policy Analyst in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation.