Zelich Pleads Guilty to First Degree Intentional Homicide
A former West Allis Police Officer charged with murdering an Oregon woman before stuffing her body into a suitcase has plead guilty to First Degree Reckless Homicide.
A two-week murder trial for Steven Zelich was scheduled to begin this week, but before jury selection, Zelich made the decision to plead guilty.
The move caught prosecutors and the defense by surprise.
"If you would have asked me last Friday if we would be in trial right now picking a jury, I would have told you yes." says Zelich's Attorney Jonathan Smith.
The guilty plea caught prosecutors by surprise as well.
"We expected to go to trial, and had prepared this case," says Deputy District Attorney Mike Graveley. "We didn't expect a plea."
Sentencing will take place March 30 at 1:30 PM at Kenosha County Courthouse. Zelich faces a maximum of 75 years behind bars for these charges alone.
"It is the states intention to ask for almost all of that time," says Graveley. "In other words, to keep Mr. Zelich in custody the rest of his life.
According to the criminal complaint, Zelich admitted to investigators he caused the death of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez. In the criminal complaint. Zelich said he first met Gamez online in 2012. The two began chatting, and eventually met up in August 2012. Zelich told Kenosha police he picked Gamez up at the airport and drove her to a Kenosha hotel near Hwy. 50 and I-94.
While talking to Kenosha police, Zelich said he spent "two or three days" with Gamez in a Kenosha hotel. The criminal complaint says Zelich admitted to engaging in breath play, a game where he controlled his partner's breathing by choking her. In the criminal complaint, Zelich admitted to Kenosha police he blindfolded Gamez, handcuffed her, put a ball gag in her mouth, and tied a rope around her neck.
The criminal complaint says Zelich admitted to losing control while choking Gamez, and causing her death. Zelich told investigators that he then put the body of Gamez in a suitcase before transporting her body to his West Allis apartment. The criminal complaint also states Zelich hid the body of Gamez in a refrigerator and later put her body in the trunk of his vehicle.
On June 6 2014, Town of Geneva police found the bodies of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez and 37-year-old Laura Simonson stuffed in suitcases along the side of a highway.
In the criminal complaint, Zelich said he had to dump the bodies, because he could no longer keep the bodies due to warm weather and the smell.
Homicide charges relating to Simonson's death have been put on hold in Minnesota, pending the outcome of these proceedings.