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12:02 PM Sun, Nov. 18th

Jury: Zylstra guilty of kidnapping, assault

PRESCOTT – After a jury on Friday came back with a guilty verdict on all counts of kidnapping and sexual assault, the trial for Joseph Zylstra took an unexpected turn.

As the state planned to proceed with the aggravating phase of the trial, Zylstra apparently became very agitated and uncooperative with his attorney, Kenneth Ray.

During a brief evidentiary hearing, Virginia Conner, a neuro-psychologist, testified that a question exists about whether Zylstra is competent to continue assisting his attorney with the further proceedings.

Yavapai County SuperiorCourt Judge Ralph Hess ordered Zylstra's evaluation under Rule 11 of criminal proceedings. He then set a Rule 11 hearing for Nov. 18 and ordered the jury to return on Nov. 19.

The Rule 11 evaluation will determine whether Zylstra is competent to proceed with this stage of the trial.

It took jurors only about an hour and a half to convict Zylstra on three counts of kidnapping and two counts of sexual assault that stem from an April 1993 incident when he kidnapped and raped two Bradshaw Mountain High School seniors – one an exchange student from Ecuador.

Each count carries between 7 and 21 years in prison. If the parties proceed with the aggravating phase in this case and the jury finds the existence of aggravating factors that the state is alleging, Zylstra could face as much as 105 years behind bars.

Authorities arrested and extradited Zylstra from Tennessee to Arizona about two years ago after officials in another state matched his DNA with the DNA evidence removed from the victims after the incident.

Both victims took the stand and gave emotional testimony about their experiences, which started out as a hiking trip in the Granite Dells area.

One of the victims testified that shortly after the defendant approached them on the ledge where they climbed to take pictures, he crowded her into a little corner, pulled a knife, unzipped his pants and ordered her to perform oral sex on him.

She said she tried to comply because she thought "if I did everything he wanted, he wouldn't hurt us too much."

"I kind of felt she (the friend) was my responsibility because I took her out there," she said, adding that when she told him that she no longer could perform oral sex on him because it was making her sick, he pushed her up against the boulder. "He spread my legs and proceeded to rape me," she said. "It took less than five minutes."

Then they all got off the ledge and he ordered them to get in his car, she said. He drove them to the Mingus Mountain area, where he raped the second victim.

The second victim testified that she was trying to push him off of her with her hands while he was assaulting her in the back of a Ford Bronco, which didn't have back seats.

While the clerk read the verdict on Friday, Zylstra appeared calm as he stared straight at the jurors who confirmed their decision one by one on all five counts.

Hess then ordered the jurors to come back at 1 p.m. for the aggravating phase.

In June 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that a judge may impose an aggravated term for an offense only if a jury finds aggravating circumstance(s) or if the defendant admits those circumstances.

Contact the reporter at mburicadam@prescottaz.com