Steven Zelich waives preliminary hearing in body dumping homicide

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Jeffrey Zampanti/Kenosha News
Friday, August 15, 2014

KENOSHA--The former West Allis police officer accused of killing a woman and keeping her body for nearly two years waived his preliminary hearing Friday in Kenosha County Court.

Steven Zelich, 52, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and hiding the corpse of 19-year-old college student Jenny Gamez of Cottage Grove, Oregon. Zelich also is charged in Walworth County with hiding the corpses of Gamez and 37-year-old Laura Simonson of Farmington, Minnesota.

Zelich was arrested June 25 and confessed to law enforcement that he killed Gamez in Kenosha, according to police. Both bodies were discovered in suitcases along North Como Road in the town of Geneva on June 5.

Zelich appeared in court Friday wearing shackles and a navy blue uniform.

“Mr. Zelich and I weren't confident which way it was going to go this morning whether to waive the (preliminary hearing),” defense attorney Jonathan Smith said. “Ultimately, we came to the decision for our own reasons as to why we waived it.

"Mr. Zelich presented a very reasoned thought process concerning the preliminary hearing. I advise all my clients the pros and cons and give a recommendation of what they should do. Until they sign their name, it's their decision. Ultimately, that was his decision," Smith said.

Smith requested and was granted a new judge. Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder was named as the replacement for Judge Chad Kerkman.

“Ultimately, Judge Schroeder is a judge I'm familiar with, and I appreciate the experience that he brings to the process," Smith said.

Smith said it was too early to discuss a possible plea agreement.

Zelich is being held on a $2 million bond in Kenosha County and a $1 million bond in Walworth County. He told law enforcement the deaths were accidental during sexual encounters of “breath play,” where he restricted their ability to breath, according to police.

Zelich chatted with Gamez online and met her for the first time at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee on Aug. 26, 2012. The two then checked in to the hotel previously known as Quality Inn, 7206 122nd Ave., according to police.

Smith addressed a large media gathering immediately after the proceedings.

“I'm aware people are watching,” Smith said. “I know there will be a lot of armchair quarterbacks that have different thoughts. Unless you're the person in the room having the conversations with the client and reviewing the evidence, I don't think that's fair. I'm aware of what comes with the territory, but I don't think it's going to change our approach to this at all.”

The Kenosha County case proceeds with arraignment at 1:15 p.m. Monday.

Last updated: 3:11 pm Friday, August 15, 2014

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