Zelich case set for trial in Walworth County

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Andrea Anderson | June 8, 2016

ELKHORN—After an unexpected turn Wednesday, the case of a former West Allis police officer accused of killing two women during sex and ditching their bodies along a town of Geneva road is now set for trial in Walworth County.

Steven Zelich, 54, was charged in Walworth County Court in June 2014 with two counts of hiding a corpse. The charges carry a combined maximum of 20 years in prison.

Zelich is accused of killing Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old from Cottage Grove, Oregon, and Laura Simonson, a 37-year-old from Farmington, Minnesota.

A plea and sentencing had been scheduled for Wednesday, but after the joint plea agreement was modified just before the hearing, Judge David Reddy gave Zelich's attorney, Jonathan Carver Smith, two options: enter a plea and order a presentence investigation with sentencing at a later date or set the case for trial.

“I've got some concerns about this happening too quickly,” Reddy said of the changes. “…I'm not willing to proceed to sentencing.”
Smith agreed to set the case for trial to have more time to consult with Zelich after saying he didn't want to choose either option.

“Because this has all been put upon Mr. Zelich, and while he is of agreement with certain matters, I don't think it's in his interest to have to make that decision without further consultation,” Smith said.

The joint recommendation had called for Zelich to plead guilty to one count of hiding a corpse with the other dismissed and read in and a recommended sentence of five years in prison and five years extended supervision. The time would be served concurrent to Zelich's 35-year prison sentence imposed in Kenosha County, Smith and Walworth County District Attorney Dan Necci said.
The new recommendation, which Zelich agreed to minutes before the hearing, was to plead guilty to both felony counts but have the same sentencing recommendation, Smith said.

Zelich in March was sentenced to 35 years in prison in Kenosha County for the death of Gamez, who died during a sexual encounter at a hotel in Kenosha. He had pleaded guilty in January to felony charges of first-degree reckless homicide with use of a dangerous weapon and hiding a corpse stemming from the 2012 death of Gamez, according to court records.

Smith said he was told about the new plea agreement 15 minutes before the hearing. Reddy learned about the new plea agreement during the hearing Wednesday and questioned why there was no additional prison time.

Necci said the last-minute agreement came after a “miscommunication” between himself, Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell and town of Geneva police Chief Steven Hurley.

Necci said the goal is to wrap up the Walworth County case and hold Zelich accountable in Olmsted County, Minnesota, where he is charged with one count each of first-degree murder, second-degree intentional murder and second-degree unintentional murder in Simonson's death, according to the Post Bulletin newspaper in Rochester, Minnesota.

“One of many factors that came into coming to this joint recommendation was trying to get the closure for these victims as close as possible,” Necci said after court. “This has been going on a long time.”

Necci also said the Walworth County charges are “small potatoes” compared to the charges in Minnesota and Kenosha County.

Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said Wednesday authorities have been waiting for the Walworth County case to wrap up before Zelich can be extradited to Minnesota.

Necci said Wednesday's course of events “was weird” but said “it's a big case. It certainly justified the extra concern.”
Zelich told investigators the women's deaths were accidental.

Authorities have said Zelich met both women on a bondage website before meeting in person. The women died during bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism sessions, authorities said.

After killing the two women, he stored both bodies in the trunk of the car and then dumped the bodies in separate suitcases along North Como Road in the town of Geneva. Zelich decided to ditch the bodies because of the smell, authorities previously said.

A highway worker mowing the grass along the road found the suitcases June 5, 2014, a few days after Zelich reportedly dumped them.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this article.

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