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Judge rules against prosecutors in suitcase bodies case

KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — A judge says jurors in the Wisconsin case of a former police officer accused of killing an Oregon woman whose body was found in a suitcase should not be told about a Minnesota woman he’s also suspected of killing.

Steven Zelich, 53, of West Allis, is charged in Kenosha County with first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in the August 2012 killing of Jenny Gamez, a 19-year-old college student from Cottage Grove, Ore. He’s also suspected of killing Laura Simonson, 37, of Farmington, Minn., at a Rochester, Minn., hotel in November 2013, but hasn’t been charged in her death so far.

Court records say he told investigators he accidentally choked both women to death during consensual sex and hid their bodies until they began to smell. Then he dumped them on the roadside, where they were found by highway workers mowing grass in June 2014.

Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled in April that prosecutors couldn’t use Simonson’s death as evidence in Zelich’s trial for Gamez’ death. He said that since Simonson died long after Gamez, it would be prejudge his guilt to use that information.

On Friday the judge denied a prosecutor’s motion to reconsider his ruling, the Kenosha News reported. But he said he may revisit the issue during the trial, which is expected to begin in November, if the evidence warrants it.

District Attorney Robert Zapf said it would be difficult to separate the deaths at trial.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen in my career as a prosecutor a case that was more intertwined,” he said, saying Zelich used online contact to lure the women “into his web.”

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