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11:53 AM Tue, Sept. 25th

Zylstra draws 30 years for sexual crimes

PRESCOTT – Inspite of significant mitigating circumstances that the court took into the account, Joseph Lee Zylstra will serve aggravated prison terms totaling 30 years for the kidnapping and rape of two Bradshaw Mountain High School seniors in April 1993.

Zylstra, 47, will serve two consecutive sentences of 15 years for two counts of sexual assault and two concurrent terms of 15 years for two counts of kidnapping.

A jury convicted Zylstra in October on five counts including two counts of sexual assault and three counts of kidnapping.

The same jury found that three aggravating factors exist in each one of the four counts they convicted him of including a threat of infliction of a serious injury; the offense was committed in an especially cruel, heinous and depraved manner; and, physical or emotional harm caused to the victims by the defendant's conduct.

The court ruled that two counts of kidnapping should be merged during this phase of the trial because "the victims never were out of his (defendant's) control during the abduction," Deputy Yavapai County Attorney Mark Ainley said previously.

Before Pro-tem Judge Ralph Hess of Yavapai County Superior Court sentenced Zylstra, Ainley asked the court to impose aggravated consecutive terms on all counts. He said that in a pre-sentence report a probation officer indicated that she believes that "individuals like Zylstra are at risk to re-offend."

Ainley said Zylstra's background supports this claim as it includes a number of assaults. "There is nothing that indicates that he will change," he said.

He said Zylstra's actions affected both victims but particularly the one who was an exchange student. He said some members of her family, including her husband, do not know that Zylstra raped her because of the cultural stigma that exists in her country.

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

Both victims took the stand giving emotional testimonies 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, that he raped her at knifepoint.

Then he drove them to the Mingus Mountain area where he raped the second victim.

Zylstra's attorney, Thomas Kelly, asked the judge to consider mitigating factors including his client's harsh childhood.

"I have not seen such a horrendous childhood," he said. "He is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of it."

Zylstra also read a lengthy statement in which he apologized to the court for his outbursts, to Ainley for spitting at him during a hearing, to the jury for acting out after they rendered their verdict and to the members of press.

He said his actions were the result of his frustration with the justice system and his other attorney, Kenneth Ray, who proceeded with the hearings without consulting with him, allegedly violating his Constitutional right to defend him-self.

Zylstra said society, his attorney and his friends all have let him down. He also reflected on his past and how he was diagnosed with PTSD and what he has done to alleviate it.

At the end, Zylstra concluded his statement with a poem that described his life, his feelings about the world in which he lives and expectations as he faces the punishment.

Imposing aggravated terms for his conduct, Hess told Zylstra "I'm looking at what I see as three tragic stories," he said.

The jury foreman, who attended the sentencing, said that he believes the punishment fits the crime.

"When I think what the two girls went through … I wouldn't want to see any other girls go through that," he said.

"It was a fair sentence," he added. "It could be easy to get moved by his passionate statement. What about the victims … they have been through a lot."

Contact the reporter at mburicadam@prescottaz.com