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Ventura County

Murder Defendant a Gang Pawn, Lawyer Argues

November 02, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Murder defendant Bridget Callahan was portrayed Friday as an unwitting follower of a white supremacist gang, and had no intention of helping in the slaying of a 17-year-old girl four years ago in a Ventura motel room.

Attorney Joseph O'Neill said in closing arguments in Callahan's murder trial that his client sought to gain power and prestige through her association with violent men who "used and abused women" and ruled by intimidation.

"She was not the brightest bulb in the bunch here, and she had gone to individuals who are similar to her," O'Neill told the Ventura County Superior Court jury. "This is a girl who desperately wanted to belong."

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Michael Katz told jurors that Callahan knew what she was doing every step of the way, embracing the racist skinhead subculture and knowingly participating in the October 1998 beating and stabbing death of high school student Nichole Hendrix of Ventura.

"She was an adult, she knew what she was doing," Katz said. "Bridget Callahan didn't really want to change. She liked being a devotee of the [gang]."

Callahan, a 30-year old Ventura resident, faces one count of first-degree murder with allegations that the slaying was gang-related and occurred during a robbery and kidnapping. She faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.

According to prosecutors, Hendrix was drugged and kidnapped by her friend Callahan and skinheads David Ziesmer, 29, and Michael Bridgeford, 25, because they wanted to sell stolen goods in her possession.

When she woke up in a Thompson Boulevard motel room, Hendrix called her mother.

But Ziesmer and Bridgeford thought she was reporting them to police and decided to kill her, Katz has said.

After Hendrix was slain, her body was stuffed into a trash can filled with wet cement and dumped into the Ventura County back country. When it was recovered six months later, animals had dragged away most of the remains.

Callahan is the first of the three suspects to stand trial.

During closing arguments, O'Neill honed in on his theory that Callahan was a hapless victim of the gang, comparing her attraction to Ziesmer to that of a young boy's attraction to a snake pit in a zoo.

"Miss Callahan became very fascinated with Mr. Ziesmer, who was the biggest snake in the pit," O'Neill said. "When you're in that pit, you're going to do whatever you have to do to survive."

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