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Wednesday, August 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Killer's sentence is overturned

Seattle Times staff reporter

An exceptionally long prison sentence given to Jesus Mezquia after he was convicted by DNA evidence in the 1993 murder of musician Mia Zapata was overturned yesterday by the state Court of Appeals.

The court — which unanimously affirmed Mezquia's conviction — overturned the 36-year sentence because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling referred to as the Blakely decision. That ruling said that any factor which extends a sentence beyond the standard range must be either proven to a jury or admitted by the defendant.

Mezquia's sentence was 10 years longer than the standard range for felony murder.

In sentencing Mezquia last year, the trial-court judge said she found legal justification for the harsher sentence in the extreme injuries suffered by Zapata during the attack.

She had been raped, bitten and strangled by the cords of her sweat shirt.

The appeals court sent the case back to King County Superior Court.

Prosecutors said yesterday they will ask for a new jury and again seek an exceptional sentence for Mezquia.

"The state thinks that Mia was an exceptional person and the crime was exceptional," King County Deputy Prosecutor Tim Bradshaw said at the sentencing last year.

Yesterday, Bradshaw said he would look forward to presenting the same information to a jury. "We've come too far not to," he said.

Mezquia, 50, was convicted last year of raping and murdering 27-year-old Zapata on July 7, 1993. She was a stranger to him and the up-and-coming singer in a band called The Gits.

She had returned from a successful West Coast tour and set off on foot from a friend's house at 2 a.m. Her body was found blocks away on a dead-end street on Capitol Hill. Her death sparked candlelight vigils and the founding of a women's self-defense group.

Several years ago, cold-case detectives sent DNA preserved from bite wounds on Zapata to the state crime lab, where it was linked to Mezquia, a native of Cuba living in Florida. His DNA was entered into the national databank in 2002 when he was convicted of possessing burglar's tools.

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

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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