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Security Tightened for Murder Trial

The Region

Judge orders a gang member accused of slaying a Ventura teen to be kept in restraints, and more deputies are assigned to the court.

July 23, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Siding with prosecutors who warned that skinhead gang member David Ziesmer posed a threat to those attending his murder trial, a Ventura County judge ruled Tuesday that the defendant be physically restrained for the duration of his criminal proceedings.

"The court is well aware that visible application of security devices in front of a jury could, in some instances, affect their ability to do what their job is," Superior Court Judge Edward Brody said as six deputies stood guard throughout the courtroom. However, "I would certainly feel ... that non-visible restraints would be appropriate."

Ziesmer, 30, who is standing trial in the 1998 killing of Ventura teenager Nicole Hendrix and has a criminal history that dates back to the 1980s, will be harnessed to a special chair equipped with a bolt on the back, officials said. Ziesmer's hands and feet will be free and the jury will not be able to see that he is restrained in his chair at the defense table.

At his court appearance Tuesday, a bespectacled and heavily tattooed Ziesmer was handcuffed to a waist chain and wore ankle shackles under his jail uniform. One guard sat in the jury box as others stood near the exits.

Ziesmer is one of six defendants indicted three years ago in the slaying of Hendrix, 17. Prosecutors alleged that three of the defendants kidnapped Hendrix on Oct. 15, 1998, while she was on drugs and took her to a downtown Ventura motel, where they sold stolen property in her possession.

Ziesmer, who recently had been paroled from state prison, decided to kill Hendrix because he feared she would report them to police, prosecutors said. Ziesmer is accused of stabbing her to death with a pocketknife.

The unusual number of officers in the courtroom and the motion to restrain Ziesmer were necessary because of the defendant's violent and erratic behavior, officials said.

In a 2-inch thick motion, Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Haney detailed Ziesmer's criminal history.

"The defendant, if left unrestrained, is an extreme risk to the safety and security of the prosecution team, witnesses and courtroom staff," Haney wrote. "A review of the defendant's custodial and non-custodial history evidences his contempt for societal expectation of law and order, and his willingness to engage in sudden acts of extreme violence in a confined setting."

Defense attorneys had expressed concern that the sight of Ziesmer in shackles would prejudice jurors.

In hundreds of pages, Haney provided documentation of a volatile individual who grew up inside the California criminal justice system. From an early age, Ziesmer displayed a violent streak.

According to the documents, Ziesmer has done everything from stealing from his grandmother to stabbing a fellow inmate to threatening witnesses in his present case.

In prison, he threatened corrections officers, tried to incite riots with ethnic slurs and participated in a fight and stabbing, the motion stated.

"We thought it was an appropriate measure given the evidence we cited," Haney said following the proceedings. "We're very aware of the defense's concerns and we want to make sure he gets a fair trial."

If convicted, Ziesmer faces the death penalty.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday.

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