On Thursday, March 25, after nearly three days of deliberation, a jury in King County Superior Court found Mezquia guilty of felony murder for the brutal July 7, 1993, rape and strangulation of rising punk rock star Zapata, lead singer for local band the Gits.
Mia Zapata's Killer Convicted
by Amy Jenniges
"Suffer, you bastard!" one of Mia Zapata's friends, a petite woman with tear-streaked cheeks, yelled as Jesus Mezquia was led out of the courtroom. On Thursday, March 25, after nearly three days of deliberation, a jury in King County Superior Court found Mezquia guilty of felony murder for the brutal July 7, 1993, rape and strangulation of rising punk rock star Zapata, lead singer for local band the Gits. (His sentencing will take place within the next two months.) Her friend's outburst echoed in the otherwise solemn courtroom as a stone-faced Mezquia walked out.
Before the verdict was read, Zapata's father, brother, friends, and bandmates crammed the courtroom, passing around boxes of tissue and hugging each other while they waited. Most had dropped everything and rushed to the courthouse when they'd heard, half an hour earlier, that the verdict was in, while a few had already been there waiting--they'd hung around the courthouse every day since the jury began deliberations on Monday. The three-day wait took its toll on Zapata's friends and family--not to mention the team of prosecutors and defenders who tracked down and tried Mezquia--who were growing concerned that the longer deliberations might indicate a hung jury, or a not-guilty verdict.
The long wait gave way to relief as soon as Judge Sharon Armstrong's bailiff read the word "guilty." There were loud sighs and sobs from the crowd, especially the young women wearing their black Gits sweatshirts in support of Zapata. Once the judge wrapped up instructions to the jury--jurors were offered access to a "debriefing program" to help them deal with the graphic nature of the case--and Mezquia was led back to jail, the crowd spilled out into the hall.
For the next hour, Zapata's friends huddled in the corridor, occasionally letting loose a victory whoop, or a cry of "Viva Zapata!" The attorneys and detectives were ambushed by TV cameras and boom mikes. "We thought we presented sufficient facts to create reasonable doubt," said defense attorney George Eppler, standing just outside the courtroom door, clutching his bulging briefcase. He also outlined a potential appeal strategy: contesting the Florida collection of Mezquia's DNA after a prior conviction, which is the sole reason Seattle cops found him in a national database.
On the other side of the hall, prosecutors Tim Bradshaw and Steve Fogg took turns hugging Zapata's friends, before the cameras turned to them. "We're obviously gratified," said Bradshaw. "We'll seriously consider an exceptional sentence, due to the unbridled cruelty [of Zapata's death]." Holding up a framed photo of Zapata, he repeated her friends' battle cry, "Viva Zapata!" The attorneys then disappeared to the jury room, where they were able to tell the jury more of Mezquia's history--prior convictions for abusing women, plus Seattle incidents where Mezquia allegedly exposed himself to women on the street, and in one case reportedly tried to lure a young woman into his car--which hadn't been admissible in court.
In the hall, Gits drummer Steve Moriarty read a typed statement on behalf of the Zapata family, but refused to comment on Mezquia. "I can't say anything that you could put on camera," he told TV reporters. "But I'm glad he'll be rotting in prison."
The crowd started to dwindle, but many people stuck around to wait for the jury. Finally, the 12-member panel filed out of the courtroom. Zapata's friends thanked the jurors as they tried to maneuver past the cameras, which had bunched up around the jury foreman, a middle-aged man with a gray mustache. He said the jury placed Mezquia at the scene "at the time of death, inflicting injury." They then took their time being sure that such a finding met the guidelines for a felony murder conviction. "We debated everything exhaustively," he said softly. Before he left, he sought out a few of Zapata's friends. "I'm really sorry for your friend's loss," he told them.
Her friends made plans to head back to Capitol Hill, Zapata's turf, for lunch at Piecora's, where she used to work. "Now we can talk about her life," said a woman named Marcia, who knew Zapata since they were teenagers at summer camp. "Instead of always talking about her death." Jury members, too, were anxious to remember Zapata's life: One asked about the Gits' music, so someone pulled a CD out of a bag and handed it over. A few members of the jury said they'd be getting together soon to listen.
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