Ex-cop charged with murder in 'choking game gone bad' - FOX 32 News Chicago

Ex-cop charged with murder in 'choking game gone bad'

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First-degree intentional homicide charges have been filed against a former West Allis police officer accused of causing the death of a 19-year-old college student during a sex date and hiding her body in a suitcase.

Steven Zelich, 52, maintains that the death was accidental, but a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in Kenosha County, Wis., contends that Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Ore., was murdered.

"Killing two women over the span of 15 months under the circumstances in which the defendant acknowledged, by gagging them with a ball gag in the mouth, ropes around the neck, hands tied behind their back, blindfold over their face. He may call that accidental. I call it murder," Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Zapf said.

Zelich is also a suspect in the death of a 37-year-old Laura Simonson, of Farmington, Minn. Her family reported her missing in November, and Zelich told police he accidentally caused her death during a meeting for sex at a hotel in Rochester, Minn.

The bodies were found inside suitcases that had been dumped along a rural highway about an hour outside of Milwaukee in June. According to charging documents, Zelich kept Gamez's body in his refrigerator for months. When the two corpses began to smell, prosecutors say Zelich discarded them by the roadside. Highway workers mowing the grass found them on June 5.


FROM THE FOX 9 ARCHIVES

July 17, 2014: Zelich pleads not guilty to hiding corpses because bodies found

July 16, 2014: 5 red flags from checkered past of suitcase bodies suspect

June 30, 2014: 2nd body found in suitcase identified as Oregon teen

June 26, 2014: Former Wis. cop admits killing 2 women, hiding bodies

June 25, 2014: Missing Minn. woman's body found in suitcase; Wis. man arrested


Zelich's attorney, Jonathan Smith, says it's up to prosecutors to prove that his client meant to kill Gamez and Simonson, because his client contends the two died during consensual sex. He also noted that no homicide charges have yet been filed in Minnesota regarding Simonson's death. The only other charges Zelich faces are two counts of hiding corpses, and he has entered not guilty pleas for both.

First-degree intentional homicide is Wisconsin's equivalent of a murder charge, and it carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Prosecutors claim same 'choking game' killed Simonson

Although no criminal charges have been filed against Zelich in Minnesota, prosecutors in Wisconsin say her death was "crucial" to breaking the case. She died under similar circumstances to Gamez, but police were quickly able to identify Zelich as a suspect because surveillance video showed both check in -- but only he left. Additionally, investigators found Zelich's DNA on the ropes both women were bound with -- a crucial piece of evidence.

Zelich has admitted to causing the deaths of the two women after meeting both online and arranging to meet for sex. The criminal complaint filed Tuesday indicates that Zelich invited Gamez to Wisconsin after meeting her online, picked up from the airport in Milwaukee, and drove her to a hotel in Kenosha where the two spent several days together. Zelich told investigators they played a sexual game that involved him choking her, and he told police he lost control and choked Gamez until she died on the last day of her visit.

Zelich further admitted that he put Gamez's body into her suitcase and took it back to his apartment in West Allis. Then, he kept it in his refrigerator until he brought Simonson's body home in November. Later, he put both bodies in suitcases and hid them in the trunk of his car until the weather warmed and they began to smell.

West Allis police searched Zelich's apartment in January

Six months before the bodies were dumped on the roadside, West Allis police had searched Zelich's apartment in the Milwaukee suburb; however, they did not find the corpses. Zapf confirmed Tuesday that by March, the bodies had been relocated to the trunk of Zelich's car.

Zelich resigned after stalking allegations surfaced

For 12 years, Zelich was a member of the West Allis Police Department. He began working in February 1989, but his employment came to an end after an internal investigation found that he had been stalking women while on duty and had used his position as a police officer to access their personal information.

The resignation allowed him to avoid discipline and pass a state background check for a private security officer's license. Zelich was working as a licensed private security officer when he was arrested on June 25.

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