ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — A former suburban Milwaukee police officer pleaded guilty Friday to killing a woman in Minnesota and ditching her body in a suitcase along a rural Wisconsin highway.
After pleading guilty to second-degree murder, Steven Zelich was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2013 death of 37-year-old Laura Simonson, of Farmington, KTTC-TV reported. Zelich previously was sentenced to 35 years in prison in Wisconsin after pleading guilty to the 2012 death of 19-year-old Jenny Gamez, of Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Authorities say Zelich, 55, of West Allis, Wisconsin, met both women online, choked them at hotels during sexual encounters, hid their bodies in suitcases and dumped them along the same highway. Zelich told investigators the deaths of both women were accidental.
Judge Pamela King choked back tears as she addressed Zelich, the Post-Bulletin reported.
"Mr. Zelich, a human life is not something to be played with," King told the former police officer. "Laura Simonson was loved and valued by those who called her mom, sister, daughter and friend."
While the 25-year prison term will never bring Simonson back or replace her, the judge told Zelich "you're going to remain in prison long enough that no other woman will be harmed at your hands."
Some of Simonson's family members were unhappy that he did not receive the maximum of 40 years.
Daughter Sarah Simonson, 18, called Zelich "a monster."
"While he rots in a cell, maybe he'll realize what kind of pain and suffering he's brought to so many people," she said.
Public defender William Wright told the court that Zelich is "very deeply remorseful" and that he pleaded guilty to avoid further traumatizing Simonson's family.
"He takes responsibility and has cooperated throughout the process," Wright said.
Zelich declined comment to the judge, saying his attorney "has expressed my feelings."
He will serve the Minnesota sentence after completing his Wisconsin sentence.