Jury finds skinhead gang leader guilty in ’98 murder

Jury finds skinhead gang leader guilty in ’98 murder

By Marjorie Hernandez, mhernandez@ VenturaCountyStar.com
April 19, 2005

Six years to the day that the badly decomposed remains of 17-year-old Nichole Lee Hendrix was found dumped at the bottom of an embankment near Pine Mountain, jurors on Monday found an Oxnard man guilty of her murder.

After deliberating four days, jurors found David Ziesmer, 32, guilty of first-degree murder and committing the act during a kidnapping and robbery.

Ziesmer could receive the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The same jury will be back in court on April 25 for the penalty phase.

Ziesmer shook his head as the guilty verdicts were read out loud, while Hendrix’s mother, Shelly Holland, cried and hugged her aunt, Konney Caid.

“We are very pleased for the sheriff’s detectives … who worked on this case,” District Attorney Bill Haney said outside Judge Edward Brodie’s courtroom in Ventura. “It’s a huge day for the family … that he is finally held responsible for what he did.”

Prosecutors said Ziesmer repeatedly stabbed Hendrix in the neck, eye, ear and heart on the night of Oct. 15, 1998, after she woke up to find Ziesmer, Michael Bridgeford and Bridget Callahan using drugs and trying to sell stolen property in Hendrix’s possession at the City Center Motel in Ventura.

Ziesmer, who prosecutors said is a skinhead gang leader, was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit a crime, street terrorism, conspiring with others to dispose of Hendrix’s remains and soliciting other gang members to kill Callahan.

The 12-member jury, however, could not decide if the murder was done for the benefit of a street gang. The jury also could not decide if Ziesmer and Bridgeford kidnapped Hendrix when they took her inside the motel bathroom as she was trying to leave.

Hendrix’s remains were eventually found on April 18, 1999, at the bottom of an embankment off Highway 33 near Pine Mountain north of Ojai.

During the trial, Ziesmer’s defense attorneys said it was Bridgeford who wanted Hendrix dead. In taped interviews, Ziesmer said he “stepped up to the plate like Babe Ruth” and decided to take the blame to cover for his friend.

“I am very disappointed and somewhat surprised,” one of Ziesmer’s defense attorneys, John Pinnell, said outside the courtroom on Monday. “I believe that he had nothing to do with the kidnapping of Ms. Hendrix. She was also out partying with them.

“I think the physical evidence was overwhelming … that it was Michael Bridgeford who did the killing and that David was there. There is not one evidence … not one admission from David.”

Prosecutors said Bridgeford held Hendrix down in the bathtub as Ziesmer slashed her repeatedly with a knife. When it was all over, investigators said Bridgeford and Callahan helped Ziesmer clean the bathroom and wrapped the teenager’s body in motel linens.

The trio then drove Hendrix’s remains to Santa Barbara and then to Oxnard, where they put the girl’s body in a trash can and filled it with cement and stashed it in a friend’s yard.

Prosecutors said Ziesmer arranged to have the trash can dumped elsewhere after he was arrested October 1998 on an unrelated parole violation. Prosecutors also said Ziesmer commissioned other acquaintances to kill Callahan.

During his closing arguments, Pinnell said former prosecutor Ron Bamieh presented Ziesmer with false evidence when he initially told Ziesmer that he would be tried for raping and killing Hendrix.

Bamieh, who attended Monday’s verdict reading, said, “We did that to fool him, but it was all legal.

“We had no doubts who did it. He is just an evil guy.”

Bamieh is now in private practice and one of the attorneys for The Star.

Ziesmer is the fifth defendant convicted in Hendrix’s case. Bridgeford pleaded guilty halfway through his trial in 2003. He was sentenced to 58 years to life in prison for his role in the murder.

Roy Ashlock, 33, pleaded guilty in September 2000 to aiding and abetting after the fact by disposing of Hendrix’s remains after the murder. He was sentenced on April 2001 to a year in county jail, Haney said.

James Bowman, 25, also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting, perjury and street terrorism.

He was sentenced in December 2000 to three years and eight months.

Kellie Rangel, 35, Ziesmer’s girlfriend, pleaded guilty to perjury and was sentenced in August 2001 to 270 days in jail.

Callahan, who was convicted by a jury in November 2002, has been granted a new trial, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 1.

Outside the courtroom, Holland hugged Haney and other prosecutors and investigators who worked on the case.

Holland, who has been attending Ziesmer’s trial regularly, did not want to comment.

Caid wiped tears from her eyes as she walked out of the courtroom.

“Justice has been served,” she said.

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