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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Jail to Monitor Murder Suspect's Communications

Courts: Judge approves restrictions for man who allegedly has tried to have witnesses killed.

September 13, 2000|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura County judge on Tuesday allowed jail officials to begin monitoring the communications of a 27-year-old white supremacist and accused murderer after he allegedly tried to have witnesses killed from behind bars.

The temporary order came just hours after prosecutors filed a motion, which included sworn statements from investigators who say Oxnard resident David Ziesmer tried to arrange the deaths of at least four people linked to his upcoming murder case.

"He is a serious risk to those people," said Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Bamieh, who filed the motion. "We decided we could not take any more chances."

Ziesmer was indicted on murder and related charges last month in connection with the Oct. 15, 1998, slaying of 17-year-old Ventura teenager Nichole Hendrix.

Authorities say she was fatally stabbed at the City Center Motel in downtown Ventura. Her body was allegedly left at an Oxnard residence and dumped in the Ventura County back country five days later.

Ziesmer and two other suspects--Michael Bridgeford, 24, of Oxnard and Bridget Callahan, 28, of Ventura--are facing murder charges.

Three additional people--Kellie Rangel, 30, of Camarillo; James Bowman, 21, and Roy Ashlock, 28, both of Ventura--have been indicted for allegedly trying to cover up the slaying. None has entered a plea to the charges.

The six suspects are all linked to a Ventura white supremacist gang known as the Skin Head Dogs. These suspects face additional allegations that they either committed criminal acts to benefit the gang or are active gang members.

On Tuesday morning, Ziesmer appeared for arraignment on the murder charges in Ventura County Superior Court. But two court-appointed defense attorneys declared conflicts of interest, forcing the judge to hold off on any rulings until a lawyer for Ziesmer could be found.

Attorney Rick Loftus was appointed to the case later in the day. At his request, Ziesmer's arraignment was postponed to Oct. 12 to allow him time to become familiar with the case.

Loftus objected to the prosecution's motion to monitor his client's visits, phone calls and mail. He described the request as over-broad and told the judge the defense was not given adequate time to respond.

But Bamieh argued that Ziesmer poses "a serious risk" to witnesses and co-defendants in the case and urged the court to act quickly to protect those people from harm.

Judge Art Gutierrez said he was persuaded that Ziesmer does pose a risk and granted the request, which allows authorities to immediately begin to listen in on the defendant's jail communications and read his outgoing and incoming mail.

Prosecutors took similar steps about a year ago to cut off the jail communications of Justin Merriman, a 28-year-old white supremacist who is facing unrelated murder and witness intimidation charges in connection with the 1992 slaying of Santa Monica College student Katrina Montgomery.

Merriman is also a member of the Skin Head Dogs, although prosecutors say his pending murder case is not linked to the Hendrix slaying.

Merriman allegedly sent letters to other skinheads asking them to harm or kill witnesses who testified against him before a grand jury. In the letters, he referred to the witnesses as "rats."

His jail visits were permanently stripped after Bamieh filed a motion with the court. Bamieh said Tuesday that he will seek a permanent order against Ziesmer as well.

After Tuesday's hearing, Bamieh would not comment on how investigators learned about Ziesmer's alleged efforts to harm witnesses. But he did say the matter remains under investigation and other individuals could soon be arrested for conspiring with the jailed defendant.

Ziesmer already faces a criminal charge of solicitation of murder for allegedly trying to arrange the killing of a witness in the Hendrix case before his Aug. 21 indictment.

Bamieh said authorities have evidence that Ziesmer has taken additional steps since then to harm people tied to the case, including his co-defendants.

"He made his intent clear," the prosecutor said of the alleged scheme. "We have taken extraordinary steps to prevent that from happening."

Ziesmer remains held without bail at the Ventura County Jail.

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