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Thursday, March 18, 2004 - Page updated at 11:06 A.M.

DNA link challenged in slaying of Zapata

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

ELLEN M. BANNER / TIMES
Jesus Mezquia is accused of murdering Mia Zapata.
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Jurors in the trial of Jesus Mezquia — charged with killing local blues-punk singer Mia Zapata in 1993 — may have to decide whether Mezquia's DNA, which authorities say was found in bite wounds on her body, is enough to convict him of murder.

In opening statements before a courtroom packed with friends and relatives of Zapata, Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw said the case is an example of the triumph of advanced DNA technology as a tool for solving old cases.

"This case took a decade to solve, and not every question will be answered," said Bradshaw. "But the evidence that was previously left in the darkness has now been illuminated in a laboratory and will be seen in the light of this courtroom."

Zapata, 27, was last seen alive at 2 a.m. on a July morning by a girlfriend, who told police Zapata had planned to take a cab to her Rainier Valley home. Her body was found by a passer-by 75 minutes later on a dead-end street.

The death of the fiery lead singer for The Gits, which had been pegged as an up-and-coming group, sparked outrage and fear among friends, family members and fans, who attended an all-night candlelight vigil in her memory, raised money to hire a private investigator and started a women's self-defense group.

Mia Zapata
Mezquia, 49, was arrested in the Florida Keys last year by Seattle cold-case detectives after a small sample of saliva found on Zapata's body and preserved for almost a decade was matched to his DNA, which had been logged into a national databank for convicted felons.

Bradshaw told the King County Superior Court jury that Zapata had been out drinking at the Comet Tavern on July 6, celebrating a successful West Coast tour and grieving a newly broken relationship, when she somehow ran into Mezquia, a Cuban native who lived and worked in the area at the time.

Bradshaw said that Zapata had been beaten, raped and strangled with the cords of her sweatshirt.

Mezquia told police when arrested in January 2003 that he had never seen Zapata before and that she was not one of the women he'd slept with while living in Seattle, Bradshaw said.

Mezquia's attorneys contend that the amount of saliva allegedly present in Zapata's wounds was so small as to call into question the significance of the DNA tests.

They also said there is evidence police never adequately investigated another man once questioned about the crime.

Defense attorney George Eppler said that on the one-year anniversary of Zapata's death, the man confronted two women who had been at a memorial service for her and made several alarming and self-incriminating statements.

He said, for example, he had branded himself because he "did something evil," Eppler said.

He also said he had seen Zapata's eyes as she died and that she had told him since her death that she forgave him.

Prosecutors said the man is mentally ill and that police investigated him but ultimately, and correctly, dismissed him as a suspect.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com


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