SANTA ANA – Nearly a decade after the body of a prostitute was discovered dumped in a Santa Ana business park, trial has begun for the Mammoth Lakes man accused of raping and strangling the 25-year-old woman.
Attorneys, during opening statements Monday in the trial of Jose Esteban Cardenas Zuniga, 41, disagreed on whether DNA found on the body of Yacshicka Watts ties him directly to the murder or simply proves he had sex with her.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2007, transients discovered Watts’ body in an outdoor parking lot in the 2300 block of West 2nd Street. By the time police arrived, someone had pulled up her pants and put a blanket over her body, which laid in the midst of leaves and refuse.
An autopsy told investigators that Watts had been strangled and indicated she had been sexually assaulted.
A guest card found in Watts’ jacket led detectives to a nearby Days Inn on Harbor Boulevard. At the hotel and a nearby Circle K, investigators found video footage of Watts taken between 2:15 and 2:30 a.m. the morning her body was found.
A man shown on camera entering and leaving Watts’ hotel room was contacted by investigators and ultimately admitted to paying to have sex with her, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker said. Police also found Watts’ suspected pimp, who acknowledged dropping her off in the area.
Police cleared both men, Walker said, along with 35 others whose DNA was checked against semen found on Watts’ body and pants.
The case went cold until June 2013, when Santa Ana investigators were notified that a DNA match had been found. DNA provided by Zuniga while being booked by another agency on an unrelated charge was found to match the DNA from Watts’ body.
Investigators learned Zuniga had lived in homes on 10th Street, less than a mile from where Watts’ body was found.
“Your are going to see a multitude of evidence in this case. You will not see perfection,” the prosecutor told jurors during her opening statements….