For a decade, Seattle musician Steve Moriarty did his best to push the police investigating the murder of his former Gits bandmate Mia Zapata. Long after the trail had grown cold, he’d still call every six months or so to check on the status of the case. Late last month, the persistence of Moriarty and others who refused to let the memory of the punk rocker fade away finally paid off as a King County jury convicted a 49-year-old Florida man of her July 1993 killing.
Throughout the monthlong trial, Jesus Mezquia contended he’d never met Zapata, whose body was found dumped on a dead-end street after she had been raped and then strangled with the cord of her black Gits sweatshirt. But DNA evidence taken from the 27-year-old singer’s body by a forward-thinking medical examiner back in 1993 persuaded the jury otherwise; cold-case detectives working the case in 2003 matched saliva found in bite marks on Zapata’s breast with a sample of Mezquia’s DNA in a federal database. Sentencing is scheduled for May 14, and Mezquia could face up to 30 years for first-degree murder.
Zapata’s violent murder took an emotional toll on the blossoming Seattle music scene, prompting benefit concerts from better-known performers like Nirvana, Joan Jett and 7 Year Bitch, and leading to the establishment of Home Alive, a self-defense organization for women.
Though the Gits never had a chance to achieve traditional success — they sold only 1,000 albums — Zapata’s death continued to reverberate throughout the larger music community. Known for her feisty spirit, her seemingly contradictory vulnerability and her rich, powerful voice, Zapata had the ability to captivate even from the grave. One of the prosecutors used her lyrics in his closing arguments, and investigators told Moriarty they listened to a Gits CD while they were driving to interview Mezquia in a Florida prison. A pair of filmmakers are making a documentary about Zapata and the Gits, and Moriarty’s Web diary of the trial proceedings (www.thegits.com) received more than half a million hits in March.
Moriarty said he felt as though Mezquia’s conviction had brought about “a huge sigh of relief in this town” and, he hoped, a sense of closure for Zapata’s family. But Moriarty, who met Zapata in the late ’80s, along with bandmates Andy Kessler and Matt Dresdner, at Antioch College in Ohio, was still sorting out his feelings about the decade-old case. They were tightly bonded; at the time of her death, he’d just spent a couple weeks living out of a van with her. “All four of us were like brothers and a sister,” Moriarty said. “The band was always secondary to our friendship.”
He said he expected to feel relief and closure at the trial’s end. Instead, he felt rage.
“For 10 years I had compartmentalized my anger,” he said. “I had turned that inward. But after he was convicted and I walked out of there, I got really, really angry. I had suppressed that for so long that it just came out and it frightened me. It’s a real strange mix of emotions, but I’m really glad that [Mezquia’s] not going to be able to hurt anyone else.”
The remaining Gits members aren’t a band anymore, but all three still play music independently. Moriarty is in graduate school at the University of Washington, studying to be a therapist. He plans to work with people who have suffered a loss.