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Zimmerman to stand trial in resort murder

Philip Howard Zimmerman is led from District Court in Waimea after the preliminary hearing Tuesday, June 7. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

Philip Howard Zimmerman will stand trial in the murder of his girlfriend, with his first appearance in Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra’s courtroom slated for June 14.

District Judge Mel Fujino heard testimony from a handful of witnesses Tuesday in Waimea and ruled the state had established probable cause to proceed with three of four charges.

Zimmerman now faces one count each of second-degree murder, kidnapping and second-degree criminal property damage. Fujino found the state did not establish probable cause for first-degree terroristic threatening and that charge was dropped.

The 46-year-old man from Bellevue, Wash. is accused of murdering his girlfriend, Susan Brockert, 44, also of Bellevue, on May 23 in a guest room at The Fairmont Orchid.

Fujino granted the state’s request to revoke the $2 million bail and Zimmerman will remain in custody.

Also, public defender Peter Bresciani was appointed as Zimmerman’s attorney.

Deputy Prosecutor Joyce Seelen called three resort employees to testify in Tuesday’s preliminary hearing, as well as several police officers.

Ernest Valenzuela, who works in the housekeeping department, told the court he accompanied a security supervisor to a fifth floor guest room after reports of a disturbance.

“I heard a woman screaming `help, help’ and a lot of banging noises,” he said.

They pounded on the door and identified themselves, but no-one answered the door, he said. The security passkey also will not override the deadbolt so they were unable to get into the room

Valenzuela said he passed through an adjacent guest room onto the balcony, hopped over the railing and opened the sliding glass door so he could see into the room.

“I saw a lady laying on there in the hallway with her feet in the bathroom. She kind of tried (to speak). She was looking at me,” Valenzuela said. “All I saw was the tile hit her head once and then one more time. There was blood oozing out on the floor. The room was a disaster. There was blood everywhere.”

Valenzuela said he recognized the beige-colored tile as being part of a granite or marble table top, similar to those in every guest room. A 1-inch thick chunk of granite – measuring about 1.5 feet by 2 feet – that had been broken from a table top was recovered in the room.

Valenzuela identified Zimmerman as the man holding the tile, or piece of granite.

Zimmerman, wearing only underwear and still holding the tile, turned toward Valenzuela and moved toward him. He said he was so shocked that he slammed the sliding glass door shut and returned to the hallway outside the room.

Valenzuela, along with security supervisor John Overpeck and a manager who had a master passkey, tried several times to open the door and eventually Valenzuela kicked in the door.

Overpeck said several pieces of furniture were stacked in front of the door and a man he identified as Zimmerman was trying to push the door shut.

Overpeck said Zimmerman retreated into the bathroom, allowing Overpeck into the guest room.

He said the woman was laying on her stomach, with her head turned toward the lanai and surrounded by a large pool of blood. Overpeck said he could not feel a pulse or detect any signs of life.

Overpeck said with Zimmerman in the bathroom, his first priority was to prevent him from leaving and possibly hurting resort staff and guests in the hallway.

Before the police arrived, Zimmerman and several people in the hallway – co-workers of Brockert – engaged in conversation, Overpeck said.

Among the phrases Overpeck said he heard Zimmerman say: “It’s your fault for overserving her,” “It’s your fault for overserving me,” “She started it, she hit me,” and also indicated he believed there were people waiting in the bar “to jump him.”

Overpeck also testified Zimmerman used his cell phone several times and appeared to be trying to contact his mother.

Police Officer Lance Ambrose testified about Zimmerman’s demeanor, saying he did not seem to be intoxicated or angry.

“He was very calm. He wasn’t agitated,” Ambrose said. “He was cooperative with us.”

Zimmerman complained of pain to his foot and Ambrose said he noticed broken glass on the carpet near the bathroom, as well as several small cuts to Zimmerman’s hands and feet.

Ambrose also testified he took statements from several other guests, who reported hearing thuds and pounding coming from the room.

One of the women knocked on the door and told Zimmerman to open it. He responded, “F*ck off. I’m not finished,” Ambrose said, and the women called hotel security.

An autopsy showed Brockert died from multiple blunt force and sharp force trauma to her head and neck.

Seelen said the autopsy showed Brockert suffered numerous blows to the head, had her “throat cut from one side to the other,” cuts to her hands and bruises on her arms.

Seelen also called Robert Ducey, The Fairmont Orchid engineering director, to testify about the damage to the room.

Ducy said he noted a “considerable amount of bodily fluid” on surfaces in the room, broken furniture, a broken light fixture in the bathroom, the broken door frame, and a broken marble table top.

Total damages to the room were estimated at $17,721 and repairs are not yet complete, Ducy said.

Zimmerman is scheduled to appear in Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra’s courtroom at 11:30 a.m. June 14.

According to an obituary published in the Seattle area, Susan Kay (Eken) Brockert was born Nov. 27, 1966 in Spokane, Wash. She was a graduate of the University of Washington and had worked at Bensussen Deutsch & Associates for 15 years.

She was described as loving her family, her work and her life. She traveled, read much, played many sports, loved to shop, talked with many, and was a vital caring person.

Brockert is survived by her mother Jean, siblings David Eken, Marie Eken, Faye Eken, Lori (Clint) Combs, and Donna Eken, daughter Madeline (16) and son Jacob (10), nephews Winston and Kyle, niece Kalei, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.

In lieu of flowers, charitable contributions may be made to the Jacob and Madeline Brockert Trust c/o Bank of America.

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