Tucson man extradited in cold case murder - Tucson News Now

Tucson man extradited in cold case murder

John William Zelinski (Source: Santa Ana Police Department) John William Zelinski (Source: Santa Ana Police Department)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

A Tucson man has been accused in the fatal stabbing of a California man more than 30 years ago, authorities said.

The Santa Ana (CA) Police Department said John William Zelinski was arrested and charged with murder in May 2017 and extradited to California.

The 61-year-old Zelinski allegedly killed a transient man, identified in a news release as Roy E., during an argument in Santa Ana on May 18, 1984.

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The SAPD said Zelinski started a "verbal confrontation" with Roy E., who he "knew from a local homeless shelter." Zelinski is accused of stabbing Roy E. once in his back before running away from the scene. The victim died at the hospital during surgery.

No suspect was immediately identified, until the Orange County Cold Case Homicide Task Force reexamined the case years later. They determined Zelinski was the likely suspect.

Zelinski was extradited from Tucson by the SAPD and the Orange County District Attorney.

According to Roy Ellison with the Orange County Homicide Task Force, who helped develop the case, Zelisnki was a transient in Tucson. Detectives with the Tucson Police Department helped track him down, took him into custody, and held him in the Pima County Jail prior to extradition.

Ellison said that they unsuccessfully searched some apartment complexes in the Tucson area, before Tucson officers narrowed down Zelinski's whereabouts.

In February, Orange County Cold Case Homicide Detectives reached out to the Tucson Police Cold Case Unit and Detective Maria Cheek to ask for assistance in locating their suspect, according to TPD Sgt. Kim Bay, which is routine procedure for police departments nationwide.

"Helping close a 33-year-old homicide case was very satisfying, but they did all the work on the front end. I just help track down the suspect here," Det. Cheek said in a statement.

Ellison explained that with the advancement of modern crime-fighting technology, their office reexamines cold cases on a regular basis. He said there are more than 1,000 unsolved homicides in Orange County that the task force is sorting through for new information or new leads.

In Zelinski's case, Ellison said they re-contacted witnesses from the 1984 murder, and said they took a closer look at Zelinski to rule him as a suspect. 

Enough of a case was built that Orange County Senior Deputy District Attorney Matt Murphy could file charges.

"It's a conglomeration of very experienced detectives, using modern techniques," Murphy told Tucson News Now. "They've had a lot of success."

Murphy pointed out that there is "no statute of limitations on murders in California." He said it was a collaborative effort to review the case.

He said that they were aware that Zelinski had been living in Tucson for at least the last year.

"The OCDA Special Prosecutions Unit and SAPD pursued the defendant's extradition so he could be transported to Orange County to face charges," the Orange County District Attorney's Office said in a news release. "OCDA partners with local law enforcement, as well as Interpol, the FBI, US Marshals, State Department, Department of Justice, and Homeland Security, in a continuous effort to prosecute fugitives, protect the public, and seek justice for victims."

The news release went on to "thank our law enforcement partners in Arizona for their assistance in this case."

Zelinski faces one felony charge of murder, including a sentencing enhancement, and a charge of personal use of a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of 26 years to life in prison.

Zelinski is scheduled to be arraignment on Friday, June 23.

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