I’ve been writing about the murder of 15-year-old Jennifer Parks for the past 12 years, and I always feel a little bad when I write about it. I feel bad because whenever I write a new post on whatever the latest development is, I have to write about the details of her murder which are still horrific to think about. Since Jennifer’s murder, I have become friends with people who were close to Jennifer’s family and I’ve become friends with Jennifer’s mother, Laurie Parks. While Mrs. Parks is aware of what I write, I always feel guilty when I bring up Jennifer’s murder again for whatever reason. With this post I feel twice as bad.
For those of you who may be new to the site, Jennifer was killed on July 30, 2005 by 18-year-old Jonathan Zarate and his brother, 14-year-old James Zarate. Jennifer’s family were neighbors with the Zarates in Randolph, New Jersey. The two brothers stabbed and beat Jennifer to death in their basement just because Jennifer reported to her school that James Zarate was bullying her. After the Zarate brothers killed her, they dismembered her body so they could fit her remains into a trunk. The trunk was left in the back of the Zarate family’s Jeep until they could try to dispose of her body. Her body was there 24 hours before the brothers and an accomplice tried to dispose of her remains in the Passaic River. A police officer caught them trying to dispose of Jennifer’s remains. Jonathan Zarate was tried first and in 2009 was sentenced to life in prison. Then James Zarate was tried as an adult and later that year was sentenced to life with eligibility for parole after serving 76 years of his sentence. In 2016, a resentencing was ordered for James Zarate based on court rulings that state mandatory life without parole for teens is cruel and unusual. Back in September, it was ruled that James Zarate would remain sentenced as an adult.
Now, the reason I feel twice as bad with this post is because this past week, the same judge who sentenced James Zarate to life was forced to resentence him to 50 years with the eligibility for parole after 43 1/2 years. Back in January, the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled that juvenile killers need to have a meaningful chance for parole from their sentences. This is not surprising, considering New Jersey abolished the death penalty when they had someone like Jesse Timmendequas (TL;DR The monster who killed Megan Kanka resulting In Megan’s Law) sitting on their death row.
To this day James Zarate has denied any responsibility in the killing and has become a paralegal while in prison. Meanwhile, Jennifer Parks’ death shows the massive loss of potential that she could have given this world. Jennifer would have been around 27 now. She could have been planning for her wedding or already taking care of a young family while her parents could have been the adoring grandparents. Or she could have been a strong woman entrenched in her career or causes. Tragically, neither is the case. After Jennifer’s death her parents divorced and later after that, her father died of a heart attack. So Jennifer’s murder has cost a family more than the loss of a daughter. However, if the Daily Record will allow me to indulge in a liberal dose of fair use I’ll let Laurie Parks’ own words speak for themselves.
“The heinousness of the crime is exactly the same as it was 12 years ago. Not a day has gone by since July 30, 2005, that I don’t miss my daughter Jennifer Parks. The horrific things that the defendant and his brother did to Jennifer remain exactly the same. They tortured her, punched her, stabbed her with a knife and choked her. When she begged for her life, they shoved a bandana down her throat to stop her from screaming,” Parks said.
“What kind of people can do such a thing? Only monsters,” Parks said to the judge.
“Because of the defendant I was not there for Jennifer when she took her last breath or said her last words. I cannot even imagine the fear and pain she went through in her last moments. I lost my daughter, my husband, my home and basically my whole life and the defendant still stands before us breathing. I buried my daughter in pieces but the defendant still gets to fight for his life, something he took away from Jennifer. Something I believe he planned for a long time,” Parks said.
“He still gets to see his mother and his father. He still gets to live and stand before this court and say ‘my life matters.’ Well I say it doesn’t,” she said.
“He should have to remain behind bars. He should never experience freedom. He took that away from Jennifer, from me and all of Jennifer’s friends and family. I’d like to end by saying Jennifer Parks was a beautiful soul, a beautiful girl and she matters. Jennifer’s life matters,” Parks said.
It doesn’t get more powerful than those three words: Jennifer’s life matters. She didn’t ask to be killed. She can’t appeal her death. The New Jersey State Supreme court can’t make a judge rule her back to life. Jennifer doesn’t have the same luxuries that James Zarate does. Therefore, James Zarate’s life should be forfeit and he should be made to spend the rest of his unnatural life behind bars. Rehabilitation should not come at the expense of justice.