Man arrested in 2016 double homicide
Last updated 4/10/2021 at 5:24pm
PORTALES — After more than five years of chasing rumors, interviewing possible witnesses in two murder cases, and following leads across the country, law officers on Friday afternoon arrested a Portales man suspected in a gruesome 2016 double homicide.
Jose R. Zapata, 37, was arrested about 6 p.m. Friday after authorities served a warrant at a home at 820 W. 14th Street in Portales.
He was found “hiding in a crawl space,” District Attorney Andrea Reeb stated in a news release.
Reeb said Zapata had a firearm but made no attempt to use it against officers. He did attempt to flee officers, who “took him down,” she said.
“Sometimes it takes years for the pertinent information to come forth in order to make an arrest, but with persistent work, it frequently happens,” Reeb said in the news release. “We are extremely happy to now move forward with the prosecution in this matter and bring some closure to the victims’ families.”
Zapata is accused in the March 15, 2016, slayings of Christina Winters-Griffin, 31, and John Jesse Bustamante, 39, both of Portales.
Police said rescue workers found Griffin and Bustamante after responding to a house fire in the 900 block of North Avenue J in Portales, which had been reported at 1 a.m. on March 16, 2016.
Autopsy results showed both victims had been shot in the forehead prior to the fire. Griffin had a second gunshot wound to the left temple.
A warrant obtained by The News shows Zapata’s arrest followed years of investigative police work, culminating in an interview with a witness in Montana last week.
The witness’ name is being withheld by The News at the request of Reeb, who said the witness’ immediate safety could be in danger.
The witness told authorities she was in the North Avenue J home the night Griffin and Bustamante were killed. She was there with Zapata and Gerardo Marquez, who has since been convicted in what authorities believe was a related homicide.
The witness said she saw Zapata shoot both Griffin and Bustamante at close range. She said she left the house soon after the shootings and waited in a van, where she heard a second shot.
The witness, who is not charged in the slaying, Marquez and Zapata then left the North Avenue J home and drove “into the country” to dispose of evidence, she said. They returned early in the morning on March 16 and Zapata set the house on fire, the witness said.
Marquez in 2019 was convicted of killing Erika Zamorano in 2018. The arrest affidavit for Zapata shows authorities believe Marquez had told Zamorano about Zapata’s killing Griffin and Bustamante. Zamorano threatened to tell authorities about the slayings, records show, which resulted in her being shot to death.
Marquez is serving a 20-year prison sentence for killing Zamorano. Reeb said Marquez is not charged in connection with the Griffin and Bustamante slayings.
The witness said she did not know why Zapata shot the man and woman.
Reeb declined to say why investigators went to Montana to interview the witness last week.
She said Zapata was arrested at the home of a friend.
A 2019 interview with a Portales jail inmate also helped authorities connect Zapata and Marquez to the double homicide, records show.
Zapata spent the weekend in the Portales jail without bond. His first court appearance is expected this week.