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Ventura County

Suspect Becomes Ill Over Gruesome Testimony

Hearing: A recess is called after a detective recounts the Ventura murder defendant's description to authorities of the slaying of Nichole Hendrix.

July 11, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Murder defendant Bridget Callahan became ill during gruesome testimony at her preliminary hearing Wednesday, prompting a two-hour recess.

Pale and crying, Callahan stumbled as she walked to a courtroom holding cell after the break was called.

Moments earlier, a defense investigator seated beside her asked Callahan whether she was about to pass out, then alerted her lawyer, who requested a break in the proceedings.

The recess came amid testimony from Ventura County Sheriff's Det. William Gentry, who recounted that Callahan, 30, a Ventura resident, told him how skinhead gang members had viciously stabbed and beat a teenage girl to death in a motel bathroom.

Callahan told the detective that she sat outside the bathroom door as the two men killed Nichole Hendrix, 17, with a pocket knife and a flashlight.

When they came out of the bathroom, Callahan told the detective, she walked in and saw Hendrix slumped naked in the bathtub.

"It looked like her neck was slit," Gentry testified, recalling Callahan's statement during a December 1999 police interview.

Gentry interviewed Callahan before her arrest and indictment on murder charges in August 2000.

Callahan now faces one count of first-degree murder for allegedly helping skinheads David Ziesmer, 29, and Michael Bridgeford, 25, kill Hendrix.

The two men--who are also charged with murder and are awaiting trial--suspected Hendrix of reporting them to police for selling stolen property and decided to kill her, according to court testimony.

Gentry testified that investigators had few leads in the case until Callahan came forward.

Authorities knew that Hendrix, a Ventura continuation school student, had disappeared Oct. 15, 1998, and that her skeletal remains were found six months later in the mountains above Ojai.

They knew Callahan had rented a room at the City Center Motel near downtown Ventura. And they knew Hendrix had made a phone call from there that night.

In December 1999, Callahan threaded the evidence together by telling authorities what happened in Room 10, Gentry said.

Callahan agreed to identify the alleged killers and wear a recording device to obtain statements to corroborate her story. In exchange, authorities agreed to move her out of state.

Gentry said that in a subsequent interview Callahan recounted the following:

Hendrix called Callahan on Oct. 15, asking for help in selling some property. Callahan had previously talked to Ziesmer and Bridgeford about needing to raise bail money for a mutual friend, and they all went to the motel to sell the goods.

Hendrix passed out after she took some prescription pills. When she awoke, she telephoned her mother. However, Ziesmer, a recent parolee, became suspicious that Hendrix was actually talking to police.

"Ziesmer said they would have to kill her," Gentry testified.

The detective said Callahan told him that Ziesmer ordered Hendrix into the bathroom and instructed Callahan to guard her. The detective said Hendrix asked Callahan, "Why is this happening?"

"[Callahan] said that she kissed her on the forehead and [said] that she couldn't help her, she couldn't stop what was going to happen," Gentry said.

Authorities later decided that Callahan was a participant--not a witness--and prosecutors charged her with murder.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today before Ventura County Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr.

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