Police in Denver have arrested a man three years after he allegedly shot his girlfriend’s lover, killing an aspiring musician beloved by his family and fellow bandmates.
Patrick Lee Apostol is accused of shooting 31-year-old Zackary Smith. He was arrested Friday on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence, the Denver Police Department said. Smith was shot in the back of the head as he drove away after he and Apostol’s girlfriend had sex outside their home, according to police.
Cops responded shortly before 4 a.m. on Sept. 10, 2020, to a ShotSpotter alert on the city’s east side. When they arrived, they found a car flipped over in an alley with a man, later identified as Smith, in the driver’s seat, suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. Paramedics took him to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead. A bullet had entered the rear window of the car and struck Smith. Investigators recovered a single 9 mm bullet casing from the alley.
While much of the probable cause affidavit reviewed by Law&Crime — including witness statements and text message threads — is redacted, the available portions layout a three-year journey by detectives to arrest Apostol. It also outlines how Apostol and his girlfriend allegedly tried to cover up the murder. His girlfriend has not been charged with a crime.
In the hours after the shooting, detectives received information from a man who said Apostol’s girlfriend and Smith were having an “intimate relationship” and the only time he could see her was when “Apostol was out of town.” The tipster also told them Apostol and his girlfriend lived just outside the alley where Smith was shot, the affidavit said. When investigators initially interviewed Apostol he was wearing a black robe. He also had ring cameras that had a perfect view and would have captured the shooting.
But when investigators obtained the videos, the footage around the time of the shooting was missing. It was likely that someone had deleted the footage, detectives concluded.
In an interview with detectives on Sept. 21, 2020, the girlfriend said she and Smith knew each other for about nine years and would “flirt at times” but denied having a sexual relationship. She admitted that Smith had texted her the night of the murder and asked to hang out. She said he came over between 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. He came and parked in the alley and she came out to greet him. Apostol was asleep and did not know Smith was coming over, she allegedly told detectives.
She claimed they sat in the car for about 15 or 20 minutes, he left and she went inside to finish laundry in preparation for an upcoming trip, the affidavit said. She also told detectives that the day after the murder she had to do a factory reset on her phone because it wasn’t working properly. Detectives seized her phone but couldn’t come up with anything useful. Detectives later determined she likely deleted the data on her phone to get rid text messages, the affidavit said.
A search warrant of Apostol’s home the same day as his girlfriend’s interview was fruitful. His robe was seized and came back positive for gunshot residue, the affidavit said. Investigators found two 9 mm gun cases — the same caliber weapon used in the murder — but one of them was empty. While detectives did not have enough information to arrest him for murder, court documents say federal authorities arrested him on possession of illegal firearms and drug distribution charges. He pleaded guilty last year and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
In July of this year, investigators decided to re-examine Apostol, his girlfriend and Smith’s cell phones, thinking that technology had advanced enough in the three years since the shooting that maybe they could extract more information. It had. They were able to get into Smith’s phone, which unveiled eight months worth of text messages between him and his lover all the way up to the night of the murder which showed he met up with her for “drugs and sex” in his car in the alley where he was later found dead, the affidavit said.
An analysis of Apostol’s phone also showed he deleted communication between him and his girlfriend about a half-hour after the murder, according to the affidavit. Tipsters also told cops that Apostol owned an all-white 9 mm handgun, the one from the missing gun case. Lab techs analyzed the bullet recovered from Smith’s head and determined it came from the same make and model of gun that Apostol reportedly owned, though the actual murder weapon was never recovered.
With the additional information from the cellphones, investigators were able to get a warrant to obtain the girlfriend’s DNA. In August, it was determined that the female DNA found in Smith’s underwear was a match to Apostol’s girlfriend. Prosecutors determined there was now enough evidence to arrest Apostol. He’s in jail without bond.
Smith’s death has left his family devastated. His father Scot Smith told local Fox affiliate KDVR that the family moved to Denver in 2002. The younger Smith loved living in the Mile High City and became ingrained in the music scene. He played guitar for the electric dance music band Autonomix.
“He was very talented. The first CD he did, he was only 24, 25 years old and the music was incredible,” his father said. “To think that he did that at such a young age still blows me away.”
His bandmate Josh Nermon told NBC affiliate KUSA that the two were writing a song together just hours before he died. Nermon said the two had great chemistry when it came to making music.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen very often when you get two musicians or more that are so much on the same page and compliment each other in a very supportive and unique way that brings the most out of one another without it being competitive,” Nermon said. “We had a lot more fun than a lot of other bands I’ll tell you that much and it was contagious like people saw us smile, we took risks together, we just had fun and we tried to share it with others.”
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