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Ex-cop held on $1M, lawyer says suitcase deaths could be accidental

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Lawyer for ex-cop accused in suitcase deaths says killings 'may have been accidentally caused'

The former Wisconsin police officer charged with stuffing the bodies of two women in suitcases found earlier this month was ordered held on $1-million bail Friday, his attorney told the Los Angeles Times.

While Steven Zelich had only been charged with hiding a corpse as of Friday, prosecutors in Kenosha County, Wis., and Rochester, Minn., could be weighing homicide charges against him in the deaths of 37-year-old Laura Simonson and an unidentified woman, said Travis Schwantes, a public defender in Walworth County, Wis.

While Zelich admitted to "causing the death" of Simonson and a second woman in a criminal complaint filed on Thursday, Schwantes told The Times that the phrasing in the court filing suggests the killings may not have been intentional.

"As we go forward, there may be a good case that the deaths may have been accidentally caused,” Schwantes said.

The victims' bodies were discovered in the Town of Geneva, Wis., on June 5. Both women were found with rope around their neck or binding their arms, and had been dead for several months, according to a criminal complaint filed on Thursday.

Zelich told police that he met both women online, and killed each after she met him in person, according to the complaint. Simonson was killed in November 2013, while the second woman may have been killed more than a year ago.

Simonson, of Farmington, Minn., had been reported missing in November. Local police said Zelich was caught on video leaving a Rochester motel with her, and he had long been considered a "person of interest" in her disappearance.

Schwantes declined to comment on his client's relationship with either woman. Zelich remains at the Walworth County Jail and his next court appearance is scheduled for June 3.

Calls and e-mails to Walworth County Dist. Atty. Daniel Necci were not immediately returned.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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