Gits Drummer Blasts NBC for Exploiting Mia Zapata's Death on TV

"We understand the strong emotions surrounding this case," network responds

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The former drummer of Seattle punk rockers the Gits has criticized NBC for what he calls a clear case of "Gitsploitation." Early last week, Steve Moriarty took to task the producers of true-crime series Dead of Night over plans to air an episode reenacting the 1993 brutal rape and murder of the band's singer, Mia Zapata. Via a post on his personal Facebook page, which spread to online news outlets, Moriarty suggested that Seattle businesses "refrain from advertising products and services on NBC" during the month the episode premieres. Dead of Night is produced by Peacock Productions, a division of NBC News, but airs on the Investigation Discovery network, part of Discovery Communications.

Film chronicles tragic tale of Seattle punks the Gits

"There is nothing artistic, musical or positive about the re-telling of Mia's brutal death," Moriarty wrote. "Nothing except a cheap way for NBC to sell ads for a younger, hipper demographic, which the network desperately needs." In response to Rolling Stone's request for comment, a Peacock Productions spokesperson wrote in an e-mail, "As with any crime, we understand the strong emotions surrounding this case, and we're taking that into consideration as we tell Mia's story." Moriarty tells Rolling Stone that he thought the episode would be airing in June; the spokesperson wrote that an air date for the still in-production episode had not been announced.

Zapata was beaten, raped and fatally strangled in the early hours of July 7th, 1993, after leaving a friend's home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. She was 27. The slaying, which sparked fear and outrage in the local music scene and the city at large, remained unsolved for nearly a decade, until DNA evidence pointed to Jesus Mezquia, a Florida man with no known prior link to Zapata. Convicted of the crimes in 2004, Mezquia is currently serving a 36-year prison term.

Though he hopes advertisers take note, Moriarty stresses that he never used the word "boycott" and has no intention of organizing a formal protest. "I thought that perhaps local businesses might want to make a statement that it's not okay for NBC, or any production company, to come into Seattle and exploit murders of women, or anyone else, over and over again," he says. "I wouldn't know how to start and run a boycott — I can barely do Facebook." Moriarty adds that he doesn't have an opinion whether people watch or not. "People watch all kinds of fucked-up shit — I don't judge people over what they watch on TV."

In his Facebook post, Moriarty said that the Dead of Night episode "does not have the endorsement of any of the band, Mia's family or immediate friends." He wrote that the show would employ actors — in December, the Capitol Hill City Blog reported on a casting call for audience extras for the show's re-creation of a Gits performance — and would use "canned music" because the production company was unwilling to pay "customary and fair licensing fees."

"As we do with every Dead of Night episode, we use stock music, consistent with the style of the series," the Peacock Productions spokesperson wrote. "That being said, no stock music will be presented or used as though the Gits are playing or performing it."

Prior to Mezquia's arrest, Moriarty and his bandmates made a number of TV appearances, including a 1996 episode of NBC's crime-reenactment series Unsolved Mysteries, in an effort to help find the killer and raise money for a private murder investigation. "I think that eventually paid off by keeping it in the press for so long, so that the cold case detectives picked up that case instead of the other 300 or so unsolved cases that they had to choose from," Moriarty says. "It was necessary before we found the killer. It's not necessary anymore."

 Though Moriarty says that Zapata's family members and the two other surviving Gits refused participation outright, he initially was willing to appear on the show: "If they were going to do it anyway, I wanted it to at least be respectful and representational of Mia as an artist."

Moriarty, now a psychiatric social worker in Oakland, says Peacock Productions agreed to pay for him to travel to Seattle to sit for an interview, but he decided against talking when the company said it was unable to fly up his wife for moral support. At that point, Moriarty adds, he still was willing to provide music for the episode — "I'd rather them use the Gits instead of some canned music, some generic rock" — but ended negotiations when the producers refused what he considers a fair licensing rate.

Moriarty says he's been heartened by the outpouring of support from Gits fans and Seattle musicians since his Facebook post went viral. "I didn't want to stir up shit, but people have taken it and run with it, and I can't stop that," he says. "I think it's a universal understanding that you just be respectful of people's loss and grief, and you don't film it over and over and over again for an audience. I think that fact resonated with the Facebook community.

"I would rather people associate Mia with music with art and not murder — not how she died," Moriarty says. "At this point, it's moot. She's gone, the records are out there, and the music needs to speak for itself."