Ex-cop accused of hiding bodies in suitcases pleads guilty in 1st trial

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 Steven Zelich in a Walworth County courtroom in 2014. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

Steven Zelich in a Walworth County courtroom in 2014. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

A former Wisconsin police officer, accused of hiding the bodies of two women in suitcases and leaving them along a rural Wisconsin road, has pleaded guilty to killing one of the women.

Steven Zelich was charged with crimes in both Wisconsin and Minnesota after road workers discovered suitcases with human remains in them near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in the summer of 2014.

His trial in connection to the death of of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Oregon, was scheduled to begin Monday in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. But before it started Zelich pleaded guilty to first-degree reckless homicide and hiding a corpse, Channel 3000 reports.

Zelich is expected to be sentenced in connection with this case on March 30, FOX 6 reports, and faces up to 55 years in prison, Kenosha News says.

He had previously pleaded not guilty to intentional first-degree homicide and hiding a corpse in connection with her death, WKOW reported. Gamez left her home state in 2012 and was identified as one of the bodies found in the suitcases.

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Authorities identified the other remains in the suitcases as 37-year-old Laura Simonson of Farmington. They believe she died in Rochester, so Zelich faces a murder charge in Minnesota as well.

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That trial isn't expected to start until the Kenosha County proceedings have finished. Though, Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem told The Associated Press Zelich's guilty plea in the Wisconsin case will "speed things up" in terms of bringing him to trial in Minnesota.

According to the criminal complaint filed in Minnesota, Zelich told police he met both Simonson and Gamez online and arranged to meet them for sexual encounters that included bondage sessions and "breath play," which involved choking.

He told investigators both women died accidentally during those encounters – Gamez in August of 2012, and Simonson a year later.

In both cases he took the women's bodies and kept them in a cold place, the complaint says. He eventually moved them to the suitcases in his car, and had to dump them when the odor became noticeable, according to the complaint.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel previously reported Zelich is a licensed private security officer who resigned from the West Allis police department in 2001. The station says Zelich has been linked to a Web forum on sadomasochism.

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