That team got a break late last month and shocked Seattle on Saturday, January 11, by announcing an arrest. Over the past several days, details of the case have leaked out--along with the tears of Zapata's friends and admirers, who mourned her death all over again. The story of Zapata--lead singer of the Gits, inspiration for the anti-violence organization Home Alive, and a Seattle legend--may finally be put to rest.
With DNA evidence the public didn't know existed, detectives Richard Gagnon and Gregg Mixsell found their man last month--Jesus C. Mezquia, a 48-year-old Cuban native. Mezquia landed in Florida's DNA database in December after finishing probation for a possession of burglary tools conviction. He was matched with a saliva sample from Zapata's body (saved presciently in 1993 by the King County Medical Examiner's office) that Seattle investigators submitted to a database search last June. Mezquia, a tall man with a tattoo on one finger, is in a Miami-area jail, and has indicated that he will fight extradition to Washington.
A new Florida law, passed in 2001, helped pinpoint Mezquia. The law expanded Florida's DNA database last year to include robbers and burglars. By 2005, all Florida felons will be in the database, which is already one of the country's largest. (Washington State has rejected a similar "all felons" database proposal.) If not for the new law, Mezquia probably wouldn't have made it into the database, despite his lengthy record: convictions for aggravated battery of a pregnant woman in 1997; kidnapping, false imprisonment, robbery, and indecent exposure in the early 1980s in Florida; and battery of a spouse and assault to commit rape in California in the late '80s and early '90s.
Detective Gagnon and Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Bradshaw's court statements are written tenderly. In his request for $4 million bail for Mezquia, Bradshaw argues that Mezquia has maintained silence about the murder of "an unarmed, special woman whose promising future was strangled."
Since Saturday, Zapata's friends have been forced to relive her grisly death [see pg. 39]. On that Tuesday evening, July 6, Zapata rehearsed at Pancreas Production Studio, behind the Pike Street and 11th Avenue Winston Apartments. At 8:30 p.m., she joined friends at the Comet Tavern, a block away at Pike and 10th Avenue. Zapata had been drinking all day, and continued drinking at the Comet, even venturing a few blocks to Piecora's Pizza for hard alcohol. She returned to the tavern, and kept drinking until midnight.
At midnight, she left the Comet to look for her boyfriend at the studio. He wasn't there, so she went upstairs to a friend's apartment. At 2:00 a.m., Zapata left, saying she'd catch a cab to her Rainier Valley apartment.
At 3:20 a.m., a prostitute found Zapata's body where the dead-end 24th Avenue met Yesler Way, near an empty field. The prostitute said Zapata's body was in the street, next to the curb, positioned with her arms outstretched. Zapata had been raped and strangled with the drawstring of her black Gits sweatshirt.
There has been speculation that Zapata was the victim of a serial killer--perhaps the Green River killer--because of her body's quasi-religious pose and the brutality of her murder. Others suspected that the killer was an acquaintance in her social circle--or, as is now believed, that the suspected killer was a total stranger. Investigators haven't found evidence that Zapata knew Mezquia.
A suspicious incident occurring a month after Zapata's death may provide a clue about her last hour. Five weeks after Zapata's murder, a young woman walking along 10th Avenue near Union Street--just a block away from the Comet Tavern--saw a car trailing her. According to court documents, the woman thought the driver wanted to offer her a ride. But she noticed the driver was masturbating. The woman wrote down the license plate number and got away; detectives recently discovered that the license plate was registered to Mezquia.
It's possible that Zapata met Mezquia the same way, walking away from the Winston Apartments on the night of her death. The 5'8" Zapata wouldn't have been much of a match for the 6'4", 240-pound Mezquia, especially after a night of drinking. Prior police statements indicate that Zapata was probably killed in a house or car, and dumped where the prostitute found her. Mezquia lived in a Leschi apartment, which investigators say was a "natural, direct drive from the Comet Tavern and [from the spot] where Zapata was discarded to die."