Flowery Branch man sentenced to life for raping, stabbing 15-year-old

A Flowery Branch man was sentenced to life Friday for raping a teenage girl and stabbing her 86 times in Gwinnett County.

Zachary Iona, 22, pled guilty to charges of rape, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, statutory rape, child molestation and possession of a knife during the commission of a felony in Gwinnett County Superior Court. He was given a life sentence – 30 years in prison – followed by five years of parole and mandatory sex offender registration as part of his negotiated plea.

"Because he used a deadly weapon, there’s an additional five years. After those five years, he would be potentially eligible for parole. By then, he would be 57 years old," said Marcus Garner, spokesperson for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office. 

The 15-year-old victim met Iona on SnapChat. In February 2022, the teen agreed to allow the defendant to visit her at a home in Hoschton. The defendant arrived with rolls of duct tape, rope and a knife. He bound the teen’s hands and covered her mouth with tape and then raped the teen. During the sexual assault, he began stabbing the teen in her face, torso, neck, legs and arms. He then fled.

The teen managed to crawl to her phone and call for help. She was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found at least 86 stab and cut wounds on her body.

Zachary Iona

Police were able to identify the defendant from a photo on the teen’s SnapChat. Police searched Iona’s car and found duct tape and rope, as well as blood.

"If you participate in this type of criminal activity, you will be caught and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Garner.

During the plea, the teen told the judge she had just graduated from high school and considers it a blessing to be alive.

The teen had multiple surgeries and physical therapy and is now able to walk.

"Children are being enticed, their ages are teenagers, there is a larger number of females than males," said Staca Shehan, vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. 

The storyline leading up to the attack is all too familiar. 

"Children are more often being picked up by the abductor directly. The abductor is traveling directly to the child when the child goes missing," said Shehan. 

The case was prosecuted by the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office Special Victims Unit.