The Telltale DNA

A suspect in the brutal slaying of a Seattle singer turns up in the Keys

Never saw the Gits live, but word has it that the Seattle band put everything into its performances and that singer Mia Zapata's presence was that of a future superstar ready to shed the training wheels. Not enough folks were able to experience that dramatic arc, cut short when Zapata was found murdered nearly ten years ago.

Anyone who's lived in a big city -- Zapata rented an old Victorian on Seattle's Capitol Hill -- and walked home at night from a bar had to feel a shiver when envisioning Zapata's last moments. Worse yet, for ten years, only one person on the entire planet knew what had happened to her after she left a downtown watering hole called the Comet (more than a bit wasted, by all accounts) and before she was found in an alley 80 minutes later on the morning of July 7, 1993.

That person, we now know, could well be Jesus C. Mezquia, a convicted felon residing in Marathon. On Friday, January 10, he was arrested after his DNA was discovered to be a match with evidence submitted by Seattle authorities. Finally, Zapata's family and friends might experience some sort of closure, while the rest of us -- regardless of what side of the fence you fall on regarding the death penalty -- have to agree that DNA testing may just restore some semblance of integrity to the American justice system. Even if solving the mystery was more a product of technology catching up with the times instead of the diligence of police detectives, and even if it won't make anyone necessarily feel any safer (and certainly won't bring Zapata back), it means at least one person will probably not get away with murder.

Even though the Gits had released only one record with Zapata by the time of her death and despite the fact that her legend hadn't impacted much outside of her hometown, her murder utterly galvanized the heroin-and-coffee bohos of Seattle. Between Kurt Cobain blowing his brains out, dope blanketing the town like thick fog, and Zapata's unsolved murder, Seattle lost its cloak of innocence, probably forever. The initial shock, fear, turmoil, sadness, and helplessness felt by those left behind quickly coalesced into anger. There was no one to focus that anger toward, no suspect in custody, no leads whatsoever, but that didn't preclude action being taken.

Valerie Agnew, Zapata's friend and drummer for 7 Year Bitch, turned that rage into a grassroots action committee. The band had already recorded a song called "Dead Men Don't Rape," and Agnew wasn't about to linger long within that feeling of defenselessness. So she and her friends founded Home Alive, a self-protection organization aimed at keeping women safe and ready to kick serious ass if need be. Home Alive was funded by musical endeavors and art-gallery events; a benefit CD, The Art of Self Defense (with tracks by Pearl Jam, Supersuckers, Jello Biafra, Joan Jett, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and more) was released in early 1996. In 2001, a second compilation called Flying Side Kick was issued featuring contributions from Zen Guerrilla, the Makers, the Black Halos, Carrie Akre, and others. The 1994 album by 7 Year Bitch -- with a pissed-off tribute tune, "M.I.A." -- is called Viva Zapata!

Jett quickly became the most visible champion of Home Alive, keeping pressure on the press and authorities, refusing to let the crime slip from consciousness. She teamed with the remaining Gits in place of Zapata, eventually releasing Evil Stig, a live album documenting this alliance. All the cash raised went to pay a private investigator.

"Remnants of the pain and rage felt after the murder of Mia Zapata have resurfaced with news of the arrest of her suspected attacker," read a statement sent to Bandwidth from Home Alive Interim Executive Director Lynn Stromski. "For the individuals involved with Home Alive, past and present, the news provides some answers to devastating questions and a renewed hope for justice. For Home Alive, the self-defense and anti-violence nonprofit that was created as a direct community response to Mia's murder, it only reinforces our commitment to fighting violence and hate in our communities."

Strangely, the fact that Zapata had been raped (evidence that police kept hidden for years) ended up providing the crucial connection to her killer. Had she merely been strangled with the cords to the hood of her Gits sweatshirt and left prone in the street in a Jesus Christ pose, Mezquia might be happily fishing right now, maybe even for the rest of his pathetic life.

Now, Seattle residents can at least go about their business without constantly wondering if a killer walks among them. Who knows how long Mezquia hid out in the Keys, evading suspicion -- and what he got away with while he was there?

 
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