Santa Paula Times

Fillmore HS Homecoming King found guilty of Wilson’s murder

August 06, 2004
Santa Paula News

The former Fillmore High School Homecoming King accused of a brutal murder that shocked the Santa Clara River Valley was found guilty on all counts this week.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesThe former Fillmore High School Homecoming King accused of a brutal murder that shocked the Santa Clara River Valley was found guilty on all counts this week.Samuel Puebla, a 19-year-old former football player, learned Monday that a jury had convicted him of the first degree murder of Valerie Zavala Wilson, 19, who was beaten and strangled to death in a church parking lot early on New Year’s Day 2003.Wilson was home for the holidays and San Jose State University student and aspiring elementary school teacher had given Puebla and another high school acquaintance a ride home from a New Year’s Eve party.The jury agreed that Puebla beat and strangled Wilson during an attempted rape before dumping her half-clothed body in a drainage ditch on South Mountain Road.Since Puebla was 17 at the time of the murder he faces life in prison without parole. He will be sentenced on Sept.20.Zavala was a beautiful and highly-admired community member who had excelled in high school where she was a cheerleader and Honor Student. At San Jose State Wilson was active with the Alpha Kappa Delta Phi as the sorority’s fundraiser.Puebla’s future also seemed bright: the popular Fillmore High School student excelled in sports and had plenty of friends, his popularity validated when he was selected the Homecoming King.
But during the trial it became apparent that Puebla, who kept changing his story when talking to sheriff investigators, had secrets, including a treasure trove of women’s panties that he had burglarized from his neighbors.Wilson’s blood was found on Puebla’s jacket, his shoe print in the soft ground near when her body was discovered, traces of his saliva inside her brassiere.During closing arguments, Prosecutor Maeve Fox told the jury that in all probability Puebla had tried to seduce Wilson, who rebuffed his advances. Humiliated, Puebla tried to suffocate the much smaller Wilson and when she passed out he removed some of her clothing.When Wilson regained consciousness, she fought Puebla off and investigators believe she fled to a nearby church parking lot where Puebla caught up with her.Fox said the church parking is the likely spot where Puebla murdered Wilson before hiding the body off South Mountain Road, where a young hiker discovered it in the drain pipe just before 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day.Several days after her murder, Wilson’s funeral was held at the same church where the car she had been driving had been found parked cattycorner across Highway 126 near C Street.Right after Wilson’s funeral service the church area was cordoned off after Wilson’s belongings were discovered in the parking lot.The murder was tragic for both families: the Wilsons lost their daughter to a violent death and the Pueblas lost their seemingly on-the-road-to-success son to prison and lifelong knowledge that he committed such a brutal – and senseless - crime.