365 Days of Texas True Crime: Better Life
In June of 1993 Carolina Blanco was living in Brownsville, Texas. She and her family had moved there from Mexico. A mother just trying to make a better life for herself and give her children the best future possible in what I’m sure she thought was a safer place with more opportunities. While living there a woman named Veronica Zavala moved Carolina’s apartment complex. She moved into the apartment right next door to Carolina Blanco’s family. Living with Carolina was her three year old son, Daniel Luis Blanco. Carolina and Veronica became friends and Carolina felt she could trust Zavala with her children. On the morning of June 9th, 1993 Carolina was at home with her two sons. The children were allowed to go in and out of the apartment as long as their mother could see where they were. That and the fact that she trusted the next door neighbor, Carolina wasn’t worried about the kids going back and forth. At one point Daniel left the apartment for a short time and came back with a popsicle in his hand and Veronica in tow. She asked to borrow the phone and as she left, Daniel followed her out. Not unlike any other days comings and goings for the mother and her children. Carolina spent some time on the phone after the two had walked out and when she was done, five or so minutes later, around 11:45 a.m., she went to look for them. Veronica and Daniel were nowhere to be found, and when she could not locate her three year old son and next door neighbor that was last seen with him she called police and a search for Daniel began.
Hours later, 2:30 p.m., Veronica came back to her apartment chewing on the popsicle stick from the popsicle she had given Daniel. She was alone when she returned. When Daniel’s mother asked Veronica where her son was she was met with hostility. Veronica got upset and denied any knowledge of Daniel’s whereabouts.
It was the next day that Daniel was found. He was floating, face down, naked, in a small reservoir in nearby Lincoln Park.
The checkered shorts and white tennis shoes he was wearing the day he went missing were discovered in the water nearby. It was obvious that he had been sexually assaulted in some way. The waistband from his underwear was tied around his neck in a single knot. When Zavala is questioned she quickly confesses to her involvement and offers up a man named Jose Alfredo Rivera as the person who sexually assaulted and killed the little boy.
I never know how to approach details like these especially when kids are involved because I realize how upsetting stuff like this can be. I’m also of the mind that the details are important to every case, no matter how upsetting. So I’m going to try and not upset us. Just do what I do; read through the excerpt I took straight from the case information quickly and without thinking about it, don’t dwell on it, just move through the info so you can get to the rest of the story and we’ll be fine. Notice I said “we” because trust me, this stuff gets to me too.
The following is information found at caselaw.findlaw.com:
Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas.
Jose Alfredo RIVERA, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas.
Decided: November 06, 2002
David K. Sergi, San Marcos, for Appellant. John A. Olson, Assistant District Attorney, Brownsville, Matthew Paul, State's Attorney, Austin, for State
1. Events leading to trial
The victim, a three-year-old child, was last seen alive on July 9, 1993, with Veronica Zavala. The next day, the child's naked body was found floating in a reservoir. Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, a pathologist, testified that the child had been in the water for eighteen to thirty-six hours but did not drown. Instead, the cause of death was ligature strangulation. DeWitt further testified to observing two tears in the child's anus. She concluded that these tears were due to an external penetration by something larger than the anal opening and were consistent with an adult's finger penetrating the anus. That same day (July 10th), Zavala confessed to being involved in the murder and implicated appellant.
On July 11th appellant gave a videotaped oral confession, in which he admitted to strangling the child and to penetrating the child's rectum with a finger. In addition to the strangulation and the damage to the child's anus, several other details of appellant's confession were corroborated by independent evidence:
the child's underwear had been cut off and tied around his neck with a single knot; the time of death was consistent with the time stated by appellant; the child had been wearing shorts and tennis shoes when he disappeared; and the child's body was found near a bridge.3
Both Veronica Zavala and Jose Rivera are charged with capital murder. Zavala testifies in Rivera’s murder trial where she says that as she is walking with the boy in Lincoln Park when she comes across Jose Rivera. According to Rivera, he and Zavala had known each other for about five years. Veronica Zavala was 19 years old at the time of the murder and Rivera was 30, which means that they’ve known each other since he was 25 and she was 14…which sounds inappropriate right off the bat because why is a 25 year old hanging out with a 14 year old, but then again maybe they knew each other through family, who knows. Rivera testifies that he was unemployed at the time and tells the jury that he was addicted to several substances, the worst of which is sniffing paint, and he’s been doing it on a daily basis since he was 17 years old. On that day he was wondering around the park sniffing paint when he bumped into Zavala. The two of them inhale cocaine and perform sexual acts in front of the boy. Hold on….I’m gonna go to google earth to check out what his Lincoln Park looks like because how the hell are you doing all that in the middle of the afternoon in a park…brb…..
Ok, well it doesn’t seem to be that big of a park but it is surrounded by plenty of trees and what looks to be something similar to what the epic murder stories refer to as “wooded area” so there’s plenty of room to hid from anyone that might be in the park. The area that Daniel’s body is found in is near part of the “wooded area” that’s near the park. So I can see how they found an area to hide what they were doing, even if it was in the middle of the day and near a popular park.
Zavala testifies that she held down the toddlers arms while he was being killed and sexually assaulted and even admits to her participation in the sexual assault but says that she only did so under threats from Rivera. During the trial Rivera’s attorney tells the court that his client was coerced into making the written and videotaped confessions he made. He goes on to say that “He is not smart. He is dumb”, “He was tricked. He was manipulated”. It’s not often you hear of someone’s legal representations calling them dumb at trial. Veronica Zavala and Jose Rivera are both convicted of murder, Rivera is sentenced to death.
In October of 1999, a typewritten letter from Veronica Zavala is sent to the prosecutor’s office. In it, Zavala says she falsely accused Rivera and that he wasn’t even present when the child was killed. There were appeals that contended that not only was Rivera innocent but that he was mentally retarded making him ineligible for the death penalty. Rivera received a stay of execution in 2016 and is still on death row today. The co-defendant in the crime, Veronica Zavala is also still in prison with the possibility of parole in July of 2028.