Who Murdered The Rock Star?
NATO protestors form a sit-in in response to a police barricade of bicycles, Saturday, May 19, 2012, in Chicago. Security has been high throughout the city in preparation for the NATO summit, where delegations from about 60 countries will discuss the war in Afghanistan and European missile defense. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (John Minchillo)
"We have him here prior to her death. So there's no doubt in our mind that he was in the area," says Gagnon.
The detectives immediately asked Florida authorities to take Mezquia into custody for questioning, and then flew across the country to confront their suspect. The interrogation would be critical. The Cold Case Squad already had one big clue: Mezquia's DNA on Mia Zapata's body.
Would he even admit to knowing Mia? The detectives slowly baited the trap and showed Mezquia pictures of five victims whose cases they had been working on. Mezquia denied knowing any of the victims, including Mia.
But since Gagnon and Mixsell had DNA proof that clearly contradicted Mezquia's statement, they knew they had their man. "There's no way that saliva could be where it was and him not have any knowledge of who this lady was," says Gagnon.
Mezquia was booked on the spot on the charge of first-degree murder.
Gagnon called Mia's father to tell him the good news. "I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it," says Dick Zapata. "He said, 'Absolutely. It was a million-to-one shot. It's a miracle. But we think we've got him. He's down in Florida. We're bringing him back.'"
For the Cold Case Squad, there is no time to relish the victory. The man accused of murdering rock singer Mia Zapata is going to trial, one that has been overdue for more than a decade.
Even as the trial begins, Mixsell and Gagnon are still investigating Mezquia, and they're now convinced he never met Mia Zapata until the night of her murder.
"He was always looking for a victim," says Gagnon. "He was a predator."
They've also discovered Mezquia has a record of assaulting women, including his wife. But the heart of the case against Mezquia is a tiny bit of saliva that was swabbed from Mia's breast. Cold Case prosecutor Tim Bradshaw tells jurors that the saliva, and the DNA it carries, is all the evidence they need.
"The evidence that was previously left in darkness has been illuminated and exposed to the light of the laboratory and will be exposed for your consideration in the light of this courtroom," says Bradshaw.
Mezquia, a Cuban, listens to the trial through translators, but he never speaks and never takes the stand in his own defense.
His attorneys try desperately to argue that the presence of his saliva does not prove he either raped or killed Mia. They also try to argue that the DNA was corrupted at the crime scene, that the DNA was somehow ruined by paramedics trying to revive Mia, and that Mezquia's DNA may not have originally been on Mia's breasts.
Mercifully, the trial concludes after just eight days, and the detectives and Dick Zapata are confident of victory. "I can't see 12 people walking this guy. I mean that would probably be the biggest travesty of my career," says Gagnon.
But the jury does something completely unexpected. It deliberates for three days, and tensions start running high. Then, on the fourth day, the jury reaches a verdict for Mezquia.
After wrestling for days with microscopic evidence that is 10 years old, the jury convicts Mezquia. His punishment is severe: he will serve 37 years in prison, well above the state's normal sentence for first-degree murder.
"I think justice is served," adds Gagnon. "We got the right verdict."
And with the Mia Zapata case now finally put to rest, the Seattle Cold Case Squad has a message for anyone out there who thinks they got away with murder.
"The clock's always ticking. You're not a free man," says Gagnon. "Maybe someday on the road, there'll be a knock on the door. If you're having trouble sleeping at night, I think we've done our job."
Jesus Mezquia is appealing his conviction. A ruling is expected this summer.
A documentary on Mia Zapata's band, The Gits, recently premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival.
Det. Richard Gagnon retired after 35 years with the Seattle Police Department.
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