9/15/2014

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Ex-cop pleads not guilty in bodies-in-suitcases case

Ex-cop pleads not guilty in bodies-in-suitcases case
Jenny Gamez (left) and Laura Simonson
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ELKHORN, Wis. (AP) - A former police officer suspected in the deaths of two women pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he tried to hide their bodies in suitcases dumped along a rural Wisconsin road.

The plea was entered for Steven Zelich, 52, during a hearing in Walworth County, where highway workers cutting grass found the suitcases on June 5.

His attorney, Travis Schwantes, said previously that the charges might not hold up because prosecutors need to show the former West Allis officer tried to conceal a crime. Zelich claims he killed the two women accidentally during sexual encounters, Schwantes said.

Walworth County District Attorney Daniel Necci has said he expects homicide charges to be filed in the counties where Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old college student from Cottage Grove, Oregon, and 37-year-old Laura Simonson, of Farmington, Minnesota, died.

Zelich told investigators that he met the women online, set up dates at hotels in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and killed them during bondage sex, a detective testified last month. He packed the bodies in suitcases that he hid for months in his home and car until they began to smell, Walworth County Sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Recknagel said.

Zelich had resigned from the West Allis Police Department in August 2001 after an internal investigation determined he stalked women while on duty and had used his position to get personal information, including their home phone numbers. Records released by the department showed several women told investigators they feared for their safety or that of their children.

The resignation allowed Zelich to avoid charges being filed with the city's Police and Fire Commission and later pass criminal background checks and obtain a private security license from the state. He was working as a security officer when he was arrested June 25.
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