Mammoth Lakes Man Sentenced to 25 Years to Life in Prison in 10-Year-Old Cold Case

A 41-year-old man was sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison Friday for the murder of a woman whose body was found dumped in a Santa Ana parking lot 10 years ago, officials said.

The body of then-24-year-old Yacshicka Watts, a mother of three, was discovered on Oct. 20, 2007, by transients in a parking lot at a commercial business center.

Orange County Crime Lab investigators collected DNA evidence from the victim’s body and stored it in the state database, a news release from the  Orange County District Attorney’s Office stated.

Mammoth Lakes resident Jose Esteban Cardenas Zuniga, who was convicted by jurors of the murder in July, maintained that he did not kill Watts during his testimony.

“I’m being accused of something I didn’t do, and I don’t even know what happened,” Zuniga, speaking through a Spanish-language interpreter, told the Orange County Register in July. “Can you imagine?”

Investigators linked Zuniga to the crime through a DNA match after he had been arrested in Santa Ana in an unrelated case in June 2013, the DA’s office said. Zuniga said in court that he didn’t know how his semen ended up on Watts’s body, Register reported. The newspaper identified the victim as a prostitute.

Zuniga admitted to having sex with a prostitute and his attorney argued that while he did have sex with “the woman” he did not kill her, the newspaper reported.

Prosecutors pointed to the defendant’s former residence on 10th Street, less than a mile from where Watts’ body was found, and DNA found on the victim’s neck, as she had been strangled, as evidence in convicting Zuniga, according to the Orange County Register.

The victim’s father, sister and brother delivered impact statements to Zuniga after sentencing, according to officials.

The Register published the victim’s last name; the DA’s office identified her only as “Yacshicka W.”