Tony Liuzzi runs a bustling private-investigation
firm in Hollywood, Florida. He and his 95 or so employees keep
busy running security at private events, detaining and deporting
illegal aliens, and catching fugitives. "We do just about anything
you think of that PIs would be involved in," says 50-year-old
ago, "everything" included helping catch Jesus C. Mezquia, the
man accused of killing Mia Zapata in 1993. Liuzzi--who assisted
a team that included Seattle detectives, the Miami U.S. Marshals
office, and officers from local Florida jurisdictions--did surveillance
on addresses related to Mezquia, looked for the guy's vehicle,
and ultimately helped catch him. "When you get involved in these
things, you hardly sleep. You get three hours of sleep and you
go out again," Liuzzi says. "There's an emotional aspect to
one night in Florida, the Seattle detectives and prosecutors
explained to their Florida counterparts how important the Zapata
case is. "They said in Seattle this was the biggest story,"
Liuzzi recalls. "They told us, 'Everybody in Seattle knows this
case, it will hit every paper.' I was caught up by the fact
that [Seattle's team] was so dedicated. We [in Florida] just
wanted to catch him because he's just not a nice person. As
we heard more about what [Mezquia allegedly] did, we just had
to find him. Nobody gave up."
was sparked by a DNA sample from Zapata's body that matched
Mezquia's DNA in Florida's felon database. When the Seattle
team got the match, it called the field office of the U.S. Marshals
in Miami to assist, and the Marshals, in turn, called Liuzzi.
"They told me they were looking for this guy," Liuzzi says.
"So I went down [to Marathon, Florida] to help."
located Mezquia's residence in Marathon. "That's in the middle
of the Keys. The thing about Marathon is there's one way in
and one way out--the Overseas Highway." But by the time the
team got to Marathon, Mezquia's van was gone (and, they assumed,
so was he). "The van had been there the previous week," says
Najala Mayo-Lowther, the public information officer for the
Miami U.S. Marshals. So the multi-jurisdictional team set up
surveillance at the house--which belongs to Mezquia's ex-wife--and
started looking into other leads.
went on for days," Liuzzi explains. "We started doing some investigative
work, and developing more information on him [to] see if there
were any reports in the system that related to this person.
We got several addresses in the Miami and Miami Beach area,
and we placed surveillance on those too."
also set up surveillance on the Overseas Highway to keep a lookout
for Mezquia's van in case he drove in or out of Marathon and
the rest of the Florida Keys. Liuzzi jokes that he watched that
road so much he probably knows half the people who live in Marathon.
"I can recognize them from driving through."
Liuzzi says the team also checked with the local sheriffs for
information, and was able to identify Mezquia's fishing spot.
"We knew exactly where he fished, where he parked, and everything,"
Liuzzi says. "I don't know how to describe him, but he isn't
your average person in society."
with the U.S. Marshals, says the break came when the team contacted
the Monroe County Sheriff's Office (Monroe County covers the
Keys). "They had interviewed [Mezquia] previously, and they
provided another address in the Kendall area, which is kind
of in Miami. The deputies went over to that address to see what
they could see, and they found his vehicle there."
now focused on the house near Miami. "The team set up surveillance
on the van," Liuzzi says. "At that point you had surveillance
set up from Miami to Marathon. It had turned into a major manhunt."
hunt was almost over. Surveillance was set up on the Kendall
house on Friday, January 10. That evening, Mezquia was spotted
as he headed out to a convenience store down the street. "When
he went to the store he was placed under arrest," says Mayo-Lowther.
While the "chase," as Liuzzi calls it, involved long days (up
to 18 hours of surveillance at a time), and was complicated
by the fact that Mezquia had several possible addresses, the
capture itself was anticlimactic. The arrest was quite simple--Mezquia
was unarmed and did not resist arrest.
Mezquia's in jail, Liuzzi hasn't stopped thinking about the
case. He wanted to know more about Zapata so he did some research,
looking up websites about the Gits, the Seattle band Zapata
sang in, and stories about her death.
it came to a successful conclusion," Liuzzi says. "Our big fear
was we weren't going to get him."