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Published: Tuesday, 2/28/2006

Double-murder trial begins in Fremont

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jeffrey Zenowicz is flanked by his lawyers, Adrian Cimerman, left, and Jeff Helmick, as his trial on murder charges opens. Jeffrey Zenowicz is flanked by his lawyers, Adrian Cimerman, left, and Jeff Helmick, as his trial on murder charges opens.
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FREMONT - Before Gil Fonseca was asked to identify his daughter's body at a house just two blocks from his own, he'd held out hope that she was still alive.

"I hoped maybe he had taken her hostage," Mr. Fonseca said from the witness stand yesterday - the first day of the capital murder trial of Jeffrey Zenowicz.

Mr. Zenowicz, 34, of Marblehead is charged with four counts of aggravated murder and five other felonies for allegedly drowning his former girlfriend, Claudia Fonseca, 40, and cutting the throat of her friend, Leslie Slone, 30, at a Rice Township home in July, 2004. He then allegedly tried to set the house on fire.

A three-judge panel hearing the case could give Mr. Zenowicz the death penalty if he is found guilty.

Ms. Fonseca's father, a corrections officer with the Sandusky County Sheriff's Office, said his daughter and Mr. Zenowicz had lived together for a time, but in May, 2004, Mr. Zenowicz was charged with domestic violence for assaulting her.

"He was beating her up. She called me and asked me to come over," Mr. Fonseca said, adding that he told Mr. Zenowicz to pack his bags and leave.

Although Ms. Fonseca had obtained a temporary protection order against her former boyfriend, Sandusky County Prosecutor Tom Stierwalt said in his opening arguments that Mr. Zenowicz disregarded the court order and went to her house late July 3 or early July 4.

Mr. Stierwalt said evidence in the case will show Mr. Zenowicz parked several hundred yards from the house, walked up to it, and peered in a window where he saw Mr. Slone and Ms. Fonseca in the living room. Armed with a black-handled folding knife, Mr. Zenowicz "flung open the door," ordered the two to the floor then made them go to separate bedrooms, Mr. Stierwalt said.

Mr. Zenowicz kicked Mr. Slone twice in the back of the head then cut his throat "killing him almost instantly," the prosecutor said. When Ms. Fonseca later began asking questions about what happened to Mr. Slone, Mr. Zenowicz decided he had to kill her or face going to jail, Mr. Stierwalt said.

They went into the bathroom, where Mr. Zenowicz shoved her into a bathtub containing water "and laid on top of her until she drowned," he said.

Dr. Cynthia Beisser, deputy Lucas County coroner, told the court that Ms. Fonseca's autopsy did not reveal an obvious cause of death. The only external injury was a laceration or nonfatal sharp force injury to the right side of her forehead, Dr. Beisser said, adding that the body was somewhat decomposed.

She said she relied on investigative information to make her ruling of homicide due to drowning, specifically, "her location face down in the bathtub and subsequent information that there had been water in the bathtub."

Upon cross-examination by defense attorney Adrian Cimerman, Dr. Beisser conceded there was no water in the tub when the body was found around noon on July 5.

Dr. Beisser said Mr. Slone died from "a single sharp force injury across the neck." Responding to Mr. Cimerman's question, she said she detected no other trauma to his body.

Photographs showed and several witnesses described a trail of clothing and towels leading from the electric oven in the kitchen toward the living room at the victims' house. Sandusky County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Stotz said that when he arrived at the scene the oven's broiler setting was on and a cloth was tucked into the partially open oven door.

Sgt. Terry Myers, an arson investigator with the sheriff's office, said it looked to him like someone had tried to create "a trailer" by dousing the clothing with an accelerant "in hopes of igniting the clothes and catching the residence on fire."

A lab supervisor with the state fire marshal's office testified that tests showed chemicals commonly found in charcoal lighter fluid and lamp oil on clothing items taken from the kitchen.

Attorneys for Mr. Zenowicz did not present an opening argument yesterday but asked for the right to do so at the conclusion of the prosecution's case. Testimony is to resume this morning.

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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