Saturday, January 11, 2003
Police make arrest in 1993 Mia Zapata slaying
The 1993 killing of Seattle punk-rock singer Mia Zapata, which baffled police and her fans for nearly a decade, appears to have been solved with the arrest of a man in Miami.
Police say they used DNA evidence to tie Jesus Mezquia, 48, to the slaying.
Mezquia was arrested late Friday. He is a Cuban native who lives in the Florida Keys, where police searched his home Saturday, a law-enforcement source told the P-I.
Investigators have no reason to believe Zapata, 27, knew the man -- only that she somehow encountered him on Capitol Hill early July 7, 1993. That's when she was strangled with the cord of her sweatshirt, which bore the name of her band, The Gits.
Seattle homicide Lt. Steve Brown said the arrest "resonates how powerful the latest DNA testing truly is at bringing a measure of justice to families who have been so negatively impacted by violent crime."
King County prosecutors filed murder charges against Mezquia on Thursday, securing a warrant for his arrest, the law-enforcement source said. Documents with details about the case are sealed in King County Superior Court, although they may be made public Monday.
Mezquia is jailed in Miami and likely will face extradition to Seattle.
The recent break in the case -- one of the area's most notorious unsolved homicides - came after Seattle police decided to again run DNA evidence from the scene through a national databank of convicted criminals' genetic profiles, something they'd tried earlier without finding a match.
But Mezquia was convicted of a crime and was forced to submit a DNA sample for the database more recently, so when Seattle police had the State Patrol Crime Lab run the Zapata evidence this time, they came up with the match, police said.
"We never give up on these cases, regardless of how much time as passed," Brown said.
Zapata was last seen alive after midnight. She left the Comet Tavern on Capitol Hill, wearing shorts and heavy black boots, to look for a friend who lived in a nearby apartment.
The friend told police that when she left the apartment, she was probably looking to catch a cab. At 3:20 a.m., her body was found in the 100 block of 24th Avenue South.
She was lying with her arms outstretched and her ankles crossed, her body positioned in a cross-shaped pose that left some speculating about some sort of religious meaning.
Investigators believe it's possible Zapata's killer had simply spotted her walking on the street, or that she took him up on an offer for a ride.
Staking out Mezquia all week in Florida was a team of investigators who routinely delve into unsolved Seattle homicides -- deputy prosecutors Tim Bradshaw and Steve Fogg, and Seattle homicide detectives Gregg Mixsell and Richard Gagnon.
They had a description and license-plate number of a van that Mezquia and a friend were using in a visit to the Miami area.
The four investigators weren't available for comment.
Mezquia was somewhat of a drifter in the early 1990s, spending time in Seattle, Palm Springs and Florida, and racking up a lengthy criminal record, according to the source, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
He apparently came to Seattle with a woman and stayed in the Leschi area.
Washington state court records show only one apparent traffic citation that Seattle police handed him in 1994, about six months after Zapata's death.
Bradshaw has been assigned to Mia Zapata's death since her body was found. Mixsell and Gagnon, known as the Seattle Police Department's "Cold Case" squad, have helped solve a number of old homicides in the past few years, including cases that languished for decades without answers.
Fogg and Bradshaw have handled the prosecution for many of those suspects. Some have pleaded guilty after being confronted with scientific evidence.
Assisting in the arrest were members of the U.S. Marshal's Northwest Fugitive Apprehension Task Force and police in Florida.
Zapata was killed a few days after The Gits returned to Seattle after a tour of the West Coast. She was lead singer and wrote lyrics for the band, which was making a name for itself with songs filled with raw emotion.
Other bands performed benefit concerts in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco to raise money for a reward fund. Even MTV did a segment on Zapata's death.
The youngest of three children, Zapata was also a painter and a poet.
Her voice and passion for music took her from the Ohio college town of Antioch University to the heating punk-rock scene of Seattle, where she rented an old house on Capitol Hill.
"Seattle sounded pretty good; we heard there was a music scene, so we came out to set up camp and see how things would go," Gits bass guitarist Matt Dresdner recalled a few years ago.
Her death left a cavernous hole in the music scene. Dresdner and other friends struggled to accept the loss.
"Mia was so powerful," band manager Staci Slater said at the time. "Everything was, like, just in your face but also soft and emotional."
Zapata's friends have said she was shy and not truly sold on becoming famous - all she wanted was a cabin in the woods, an old Jeep and a sheepdog.
Some of them later formed Home Alive, an organization that educates women on how to defend themselves against attackers.