Los Banos double rape trial underway

rparsons@mercedsun-star.comNovember 15, 2013 

Merced County prosecutors on Thursday said a Los Banos man drugged and raped two unconscious men in 2012 and photographed both incidents.

The trial against Thomas Zavaleta, a 25-year-old fast-food worker, got underway in Merced Superior Court before Judge Marc A. Garcia and a jury of seven men and five women.

Zavaleta has pleaded not guilty to sodomy with an unconscious person, false imprisonment and several additional felony counts in connection with the alleged assaults. If convicted, he faces a maximum prison sentence of 14 years and eight months, prosecutors said.

Both alleged victims are in their 20s.

A previous Merced County jury failed to reach a verdict in July on Zavaleta, and the prosecution refiled the case.

In her opening statement Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Monica Saini told jurors a small birthday celebration for the first alleged victim at Zavaleta’s Los Banos apartment took a “disturbing turn” on Aug. 8, 2012. She said Zavaleta drugged the man’s cocktail and he “blacked out.”

“He (the alleged victim) recalls flashes,” Saini told jurors. She said the man recalls being naked, being sodomized and photographed – and he also remembers Zavaleta laughing.

While Zavaleta insisted the sex was consensual, Saini said the defendant wrote the alleged victim an apology letter and later acknowledged photographing the naked man lying on the bathroom floor.

Zavaleta allegedly filmed himself June 23, 2012 having sex with the other man, who Saini said was also unconscious during the alleged rape.

The prosecutor played portions of Zavaleta’s interview with Los Banos police Detective Eduardo Solis in which Zavaleta described himself as a “very bold person.” He acknowledged always videotaping or taking photographs of his sexual partners.

In the interview with Solis, Zavaleta says he cannot recall much of the Aug. 8, 2012, incident because he was intoxicated. “I didn’t force him to do anything,” Zavaleta tells Solis in the video.

The video also shows Solis telling Zavaleta that he “screwed up” by recording the sexual acts. “If they’re unconscious, they can’t consent,” he tells Zavaleta.

Solis testified Thursday that he told Zavaleta investigators were testing the alleged victim and the cups of alcohol at Zavaleta’s home for any drugs, but acknowledged the defendant didn’t seemed concerned.

The video shows Solis asking Zavaleta why the alleged victim would report the incident to police if it were consensual. “This guy did not want this,” the detective says on the video recording of the interview. “He could’ve just kept this to himself and no one would’ve ever known.”

Defense attorney Curtis Rodriguez didn’t present an opening statement to the jury Thursday. “This trial has a long way to go,” Rodriguez said outside the courtroom.

The defense attorney said the trial’s outcome will “depend on two evidentiary hearings” scheduled for today, but declined to elaborate or comment further.

Testimony resumes today at 10 a.m., and both alleged victims are expected to testify.

Staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar. com or (209)385-2482.

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