APTOS, Calif. -- In a bizarre twist to the rape and slaying of a 14-year-old girl, sheriff's investigators have arrested two of her schoolmates for allegedly plotting to kill a youth they blamed for the killing.
The body of Mariana Zavala, an Aptos High School freshman, was found Sunday on the campus of Freedom School. She had been bludgeoned to death, apparently from being slammed against the ground or a building, Santa Cruz County sheriff's investigators said.
Deputies arrested Matias Espinoza Soto, 21, a resident of the nearby Green Valley Apartments, and charged him with murder. Sex charges were added later.
Yesterday, sheriff's detectives said they had arrested two 14-year-old Aptos High freshmen and booked them into juvenile hall on charges of conspiracy to commit murder.
The two boys were trying to get a gun and intended to torture and shoot a 17-year-old youth they suspected of killing Ms. Zavala, said Sgt. Joe Heartsner of the sheriff's investigation bureau.
"My thought was that these were two confused and scared young men," Aptos High School Principal Ron Severson said.
Sergeant Heartsner said one of the boys saw Mr. Soto and the victim together at the Green Valley Apartments on Saturday night and was considered a witness in the case. He said the boy had also seen the 17-year-old youth at the apartment complex and had concluded that the 17-year-old, not Mr. Soto, had killed Ms. Zavala.
"It was just stupid," said Sergeant Heartsner.
Sheriff's deputies say they pinned the slaying on Mr. Soto because of "both physical evidence linking Soto to the victim and by Soto's statements and admissions of responsibility for Zavala's death."
Santa Cruz County Assistant District Attorney Christine McGuire declined to say if Mr. Soto had confessed.
Mr. Severson said he called sheriff's investigators because the two 14-year-old boys were behaving strangely.
Both boys lived at Green Valley Apartments and were Mr. Soto's neighbors. Ms. Zavala's mother also lived at the apartments, although Ms. Zavala was living in a foster home.
Sergeant Heartsner said that when he first talked to the boys, they appeared "confused and scared." It was only under further questioning that the murder plot was discovered, he said.