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Former Wis. Officer To Plead In Bodies-In-Suitcases Case

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A former suburban Milwaukee police officer accused of killing two women and ditching their bodies in suitcases along a rural Wisconsin highway is facing extradition to Minnesota where he's charged in the death of one of the victims.

The Wisconsin case against Steven Zelich is expected to wrap up Wednesday, when he enters a plea and is sentenced on two counts of hiding a corpse. Zelich, 54, has already been sentenced in nearby Kenosha County to 35 years in prison in the 2012 death of Jenny Gamez, 19, of Cottage Grove, Oregon.

Zelich's attorney, Jonathan Smith, said the former West Allis officer would resolve the case in Walworth County, Wisconsin, where two suitcases containing the victims' remains were found by highway workers mowing the grass in 2014.

Zelich is expected to plead guilty to one of the two counts of hiding a corpse, with the other count dismissed, said Walworth County District Attorney Daniel A. Necci. The prosecution and defense have agreed to recommend a 10-year prison sentence, Necci said.

Details of the Gamez case are similar to accusations Zelich faces in the death of Laura Jean Simonson, who was killed in Rochester, Minnesota, in 2013. Authorities say he met both women online, choked them with ropes during sexual encounters at hotels and hid their bodies in suitcases.

Zelich is charged in Olmsted County, Minnesota, with first-degree murder, second-degree murder with intent and second-degree murder while committing a felony in Simonson's death.

Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said Wednesday that authorities have been waiting for prosecutors to wrap up their case in Wisconsin before Zelich can be extradited to Minnesota. Ostrem said that process will begin as soon as Zelich is remanded to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Zelich told investigators the deaths of both women were accidental. A criminal complaint says Zelich invited Gamez to Wisconsin and they spent several days at a hotel in Kenosha in 2012. He told investigators that after he choked her during sex, he put her body in a suitcase and took it to his apartment and then put the body in his refrigerator.

A criminal complaint filed in Olmsted County said Zelich had been talking online with Simonson, 37, prior to her disappearance in November of 2013. The online conservations indicated Zelich would collect Simonson near her mother's home in Farmington, Minnesota, on Nov. 2. According to the complaint, the two drove to the Microtel in Rochester, Minnesota. Surveillance video captured Zelich checking out alone on Nov. 3.

Authorities said after Zelich strangled Simonson with a rope, he took her body home with him in a suitcase and put the remains of both women in the trunk of his car until a co-worker complained about the stench. Zelich told investigators he then drove around looking for a place to dump the suitcases, prosecutors said.

Zelich worked for the West Allis Police Department from February 1989 until his resignation in August 2001.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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