Parole hearing Wednesday for man convicted of killing Redlands girl

A man who raped and killed a female Redlands High student in 1977 is seeking parole at a hearing Wednesday in Blythe.

Family members of 15-year-old Paula Hernandez are doing whatever they can to keep the teen’s killer, John Wilton Zenc, behind bars. They will be attending the hearing at Ironwood State Prison, where Zenc is currently housed.

“I don’t want this to happen to another family,” said Ruth Lopez, Paula’s sister. Zenc, now 54, has hired an attorney in his bid to get paroled, Lopez said.

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 at a pretrial court hearing, 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 he strangled Paula as he raped her and then buried her. Zenc was later convicted and sentenced to life in state prison. He receives a parole hearing every five years.

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