James Zarate was 14-years-old when he helped his older brother Jonathan brutally murder their 16-year-old Randolph, New Jersey, neighbor Jennifer Parks. For those of you not familiar with the story, Jennifer had been bullied by James Zarate and reported him to the school. To get back at Jennifer for his brother, Jonathan Zarate invited her over to his house to watch TV. Instead, the Zarate brothers brutally bludgeoned and stabbed Jennifer to death. In an effort to try to hide her body they dismembered Jennifer’s corpse and stuffed it into a trunk that they then put in the back of one of their parents’ Jeep. It was a full 24 hours before the pair, along with a friend, tried to dump Jennifer’s remains in the Passaic River. If it were not for a passing police officer, it may have been an eternity before Jennifer’s body would have been found.
Jonathan Zarate was convicted at trial and was sentenced to life plus 24 years. James was charged as an adult and was sentenced to life plus 14, but later had his sentence reduced by nine years. James Zarate has had many appeals denied, but now instead of appealing his conviction he’s trying to have his sentence reduced.
Recently, James Zarate’s public defender has filed a motion to have Zarate’s case moved to family court, in other words he wants to be sentenced as a juvenile.
If you’re a regular reader of this site you’ll notice that Zarate’s attorney is trying a familiar ploy. In 2016, New Jersey passed a law stating that no one under 15 could be charged as an adult. Zarate’s defender is asking for a juvenile re-sentencing under this ruling arguing that a 14-year-old’s brain isn’t fully developed enough to understand their actions when they commit murder. If the ruling were to fall into Zarate’s favor, more than likely he would be released after time served.
As I have argued many times in the past, this is a load of crap, as a 14-year-old’s brain is developed enough to know what murder is. Zarate willingly participated in Jennifer’s murder and at any time could have gone to his parents, the police or Jennifer to warn her in advance. He did none of these things. Instead he took part in an act only the most bloodthirsty of killers would have committed. To have him ever breathe the air outside of a New Jersey prison would not only be a travesty of justice but an insult to Jennifer’s memory. He is where he belongs.
Thanks to Rob for the tip.
UPDATE 4/14/2017: The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has filed its opposition to James Zarate being re-sentenced as a juvenile. They argue that the new statute does not have “express declaration of retroactive application.”