I first learned of the Rey Zamora case by assignment. Every victim assistance coordinator (VAC) in our office is assigned to a specific prosecutor. Because this case was assigned to assistant CDA Brian Erskine, it was also assigned to me and our felony investigator, Sergeant John Paul Garza. Our investigators and VACs work closely on a daily basis searching for and contacting victims and witnesses.
Working with Sgt. Garza, who has access to investigative databases, we established leads to include phone numbers, addresses, and email addresses of the victims and possible relatives. The two victims in this case, Deana and Samantha,1 were just 8 and 9 years old when Rey Zamora kidnapped them and sexually assaulted Deana. The original offense reports, dating back to 1986, were used to pull information to locate relatives and addresses, which eventually led us to the whereabouts of the now-adult victims.
After having poor luck, I came across a promising email address that Sgt. Garza had provided, and I sent a message to Samantha explaining who I was, where I was from, and if she was in fact the child victim in the offense report I was given dating back to 1986. Two days later, I received a response. It was indeed the same Samantha who had been kidnapped and then forced back into the car with Zamora. She remembered the events of that day and was willing to talk to me. I called her the next day and I explained that Zamora had been arrested and that he was in custody in Hays County. I went on to say that Samantha and I would be working together on the case and explained some of the things to expect from here on out. We discussed her state of mind and if she had ever told her husband and children what she had endured as a child. Samantha had spoken to her husband and children, who were very supportive of her decision to come forward and testify against Zamora. I told Samantha that I would like to meet with her in person and that I would arrange for the prosecutor to be present as well. She agreed and we met soon thereafter.
During our first meeting Samantha gave us her personal history. She described in great detail what had transpired the day she and her friend were taken by Zamora. We generally focus our first victim meeting on getting to know each other and familiarize our victim with the court process. However, Samantha jumped right into the kidnapping, recalling her abduction and molestation, becoming tearful but remaining coherent and expressive.
Samantha told us about her young friend Deana, who had lived nearby and attended the same elementary school. The two girls would often play together and take walks in their neighborhood. Zamora had worked for Samantha’s father. Zamora claimed to be the uncle of another childhood friend, and he asked if the girls would show him where to find his niece. Using this excuse, he was able to lure the girls into his car. (See Brian Erskine’s article, “29 years of delayed justice,” in this same issue.)
Finding the second child victim, Deana, was harder, but she was important to the prosecution of this case and could lend further credibility to Samantha’s testimony. At one point we believed Deana to be deceased because we could not obtain any information on her based on her name or any personal data. Finally Sgt. Garza and I traveled to the addresses on the original sheriff’s report to speak to Deana’s former neighbors. They were able to lead us to Deana—she was alive and well living in another city not far from Buda. Sgt. Garza contacted her and mentioned Zamora’s name—Deana knew instantly what the call was about. She is now married, has a family of her own, and is still able to recall Zamora and the kidnapping she endured at 8 years of age. We set up a meeting for Deana and Brian, the prosecutor.
Deana remembered watching Zamora dragging Samantha back into his car, after which Deana ran to Samantha’s house to tell her mother that Samantha had been taken. Deana was very nervous as she told us about that day, but she held it together pretty well during her interview (and while testifying). We believe that this meeting between Deana and Brian may have been the first time she had spoken about the kidnapping since it happened.
When the trial was underway and it was Samantha’s turn to testify, she was detailed, direct, and precise. As she recalled more graphic molestation details, she became highly emotional and the immense fear she must have endured as that small, scared child in Zamora’s vehicle that day was obvious for everyone to see.
Before the trial began I explained the Victim Impact Statement (VIS) and encouraged both women to take the time to fill one out, as it serves as an aid to help us understand in depth just how this crime affected their childhoods and later adult lives. Samantha ultimately gave an allocution in which she expressed her long-standing fears of Zamora over these years, along with the joy she now felt in knowing he was no longer out there to get her. Deana was made aware that she could give an allocution, but her schedule did not permit her to stay any longer than simply to testify.
A lasting impression
Being in social services for over 20 years and in different jobs throughout my career, I have dealt with victims of all ages, from infants to the elderly. These two girls (now women) really made an impression. To endure such terrible events and still grow into loving parents and spouses is a joyous miracle. As I got to know the victims more, I suggested to both, as we often do, that counseling would be beneficial. We have found counseling to be a major help with apprehension and any fear crime victims may have about testifying and the aftermath of a criminal trial that so often accompanies victims—many of them still deal with relationship and familial anxieties. Both victims were given counseling contact numbers and a Crime Victim Compensation (CVC) application to help with the cost of a private therapist if they so choose.
This case taught me and my fellow VACs that it is never too late to establish a relationship with a victim, no matter how much time has gone by.
1 Not their real names.