Killer of Redlands teen denied parole

A man who raped and killed a Redlands High student in 1977 was denied parole during a hearing at a state prison in Blythe.

A parole board determined that John Wilton Zenc was “unsuitable” for release on parole during proceedings Wednesday at Ironwood State Prison, confirmed Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Dawson.

Zenc, now 54, was convicted of raping and killing 15-year-old Paula Hernandez, as she walked home from school in March 1977.

Family members of Hernandez have been going to great lengths to keep the teen’s killer behind bars. He is housed at Ironwood.

Zenc had hired an attorney in his bid to get paroled.

Paula was reported missing by her family March 22, 1977, when she didn’t return home from school. She was a sophomore at Redlands High, where she ran track.

Officer Tom Grimes took the missing person’s report. The next day, Grimes found Paula’s body in an orange grove near the University of Redlands. A friend of Paula’s spotted her books near the railroad tracks.

In a taped confession to police that was played in court during his trial proceedings, Zenc said he dug a shallow grave in an orange grove on Grove Street near Sylvan Boulevard, then grabbed the girl as she walked along railroad tracks that she routinely passed to get home.

Zenc told police that he strangled Paula as he raped her. He looked at her lifeless body for about 20 minutes before burying her in the shallow grave, Zenc said.

Authorities say Paula was beaten in the head and chest with a blunt, heavy object.

A jury convicted Zenc in December 1977, and he was sentenced to life in state prison. He receives a parole hearing every five years.

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