ELKHORN, Wis. -- An attorney for a former police officer charged with dumping two bodies hidden in suitcases along a rural Wisconsin highway said the man killed the women accidentally and should not be charged in deaths that a detective said happened during bondage sex.
Steven Zelich, a 52-year-old security officer, has been charged with two counts of hiding a corpse in Walworth County, where the suitcases were found June 5. Authorities there have said they expect homicide charges to be filed in the counties where the women died.
Zelich's public defender Travis Schwantes said Thursday in court that even the hiding a corpse charge might not apply since prosecutors would have to show Zelich aimed to cover up a crime.
Judge Phillip Koss disagreed, saying hiding the bodies, first in Zelich's home and car and then in tall grass along the road, indicated Zelich knew a crime had occurred.
Walworth County Sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Recknagel testified that Zelich told him that he met both women in online chat rooms, set up dates for sex at hotels and killed the women during bondage sessions.
Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old college student from Cottage Grove, Ore., spent several days with Zelich at a hotel before he killed her in 2012, Recknagel said.
Zelich had also long been a suspect in the disappearance of Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., because police knew they had checked into a hotel together on Nov. 2 and Zelich left alone the next day. But when police searched Zelich's apartment in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis in January, they turned up no sign of Simonson.
Zelich made his first appearance in court Thursday. He did not speak. He participated in a hearing last week via video.
Schwantes asked Recknagel in court whether Zelich told him the sex was consensual.
"They agreed to meet together, and unfortunately, I have not been able to ask anyone other than Mr. Zelich if it was consensual," the detective said.
Then Schwantes asked if Zelich told investigators the deaths were accidents.
"He said that it was an accident," Recknagel said.
Zelich worked for the West Allis Police Department from February 1989 until his resignation in August 2001, a few months after a prostitute told police the two had struggled when she tried to flee Zelich's home. Zelich told investigators the woman tried to steal from him and their struggle was his attempt to get the money back. No charges were filed in that case.
Zelich had been working as a licensed private security officer when he was arrested June 25, the same day detectives wearing hazmat suits removed a refrigerator and large brown bags of evidence from his apartment. His employer, Securitas Security Services USA said Zelich had passed criminal background checks done by the state every two years to renew his license.