Closing statements and jury deliberations are scheduled to get underway today in the trial of a Los Banos man charged with drugging and raping two men in 2012 on his bathroom floor.
Under questioning Thursday from Merced County Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini, defendant Thomas Zavaleta said sex with both men was consensual, but acknowledged that his story has changed several times and even appeared to change his testimony under cross-examination.
The defendant testified that a 21-year-old man was “not really into” some of the sexual acts on Aug. 8, 2012, and said he began performing a sex act on the other man, a 24-year-old, on June 23, 2012, to “wake him up.”
“That’s an interesting way to wake someone up,” Saini replied.
Zavaleta then appeared to adjust his testimony and responded: “I mean he was already awake.”
Zavaleta, 25, has pleaded not guilty to drugging and sodomizing two unconscious men in June and August of last year. If convicted on all charges, Zavaleta faces more than 14 years in state prison. A previous Merced County jury failed to reach a verdict in the first trial in July.
“I don’t feel like I committed a crime,” Zavaleta testified Thursday.
Zavaleta testified over a two-day period in Merced Superior Court before Judge Marc A. Garcia and a jury of seven men and five women.
He said he had consensual sex with the 21-year-old man for “one or two minutes” only. But Saini said that a medical expert described the man’s injuries as being consistent with “blunt force trauma” from “painful” sex.
Zavaleta acknowledged that his testimony on Wednesday and Thursday differed from statements he made to police officers on the morning and early afternoon of Aug. 9, 2012, during the initial investigation. He said he had been drinking in the morning before speaking with officers and felt slightly intoxicated at the time.
Zavaleta struggled to explain why he told officers he had initiated sex with unconscious men.
“I don’t know why I said that. I know that’s not plausible, but I wasn’t in my right mind,” he said.
The defendant also initially told police that he himself had been a victim of sexual assault, but that he never reported it because “I’m not going to be a snitch.”
“Obviously if you’re going to put yourself in that situation, you’re going to have to deal with it,” he told police during a recorded interview.
On Thursday he said he believes that victims who report sexual assault are “not necessarily” snitches.
At one point on the stand, Zavaleta said he felt intimidated by the officers, who interviewed him while he was handcuffed. He said he did not know he had the right to end the police interview. Yet when questioned by Saini, Zavaleta acknowledged the officers had informed him of his Miranda rights and that he had told them he understood those rights.
“But I didn’t really pay attention to what it meant,” he testified.
He also acknowledged taking photographs and filming sexual acts without the other person’s knowledge.
One of the main consistencies in the defendant’s story has been his denials that he ever drugged either man with gamma hydroxybutyrate or any other narcotic.
Trinka Porrata, testifying Thursday as an expert on GHB, said that everything about the case was consistent with Zavaleta drugging both men with GHB.
Defense attorney Curtis Rodriguez has noted several times that police found no evidence of GHB or any other so-called date-rape drug in their investigation.
The jury also heard more testimony Thursday from the 21-year-old man and a Los Banos police officer who each said that a key witness for the defense told them he was offered money by Zavaleta’s family to testify.
The witness, Salvador Agundez Jr., testified earlier this week that he and the 21-year-old man engaged in a sexual act in 2010.
Officer Jairo Acosta testified that Agundez told him March 24 that Zavaleta’s family had offered him money to testify for the defense.
The 21-year-old alleged victim has said that Agundez told him Zavaleta’s family offered money and a job opportunity for the testimony.
Agundez has denied making those statements. Zavaleta’s family has declined comment.
Closing statements are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. today.