A Washington state jury found a 40-year old man guilty of second-degree murder in the drowning death of his step-daughter in what prosecutors said was an effort to collect a $200,00 life policy taken out three months earlier.
Joel Zellmer, of Kent, Wash., faces up to life in prison following the death of Ashley McLellan, 3, who drowned in the man’s swimming pool in 2003 while her mother was away, according to the Seattle Times. Zellmer was arrested in 2007.
Prosecutors alleged that Zellmer preyed on single mothers to target their children for potential insurance payoffs, and his previous attempts included incidents of broken legs, burned hands and one near-drowning, according to the report.
Zellmer told emergency personnel that Ashley walked down a set of stairs to the uncovered swimming pool to wash her hands after eating cake and that he found the girl floating in the swimming pool. The defense claimed Zellmer’s 8-year-old son was watching the girl as the man rested.
Originally ruled an accident, the investigation into the girl’s death was reopened after her mother and her lawyer presented new evidence to prosecutors linking Zellmer to the incident, according to the report.
Zellmer still faces several additional counts, including allegedly collecting on a bogus insurance claim.