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Jury finds Kent-area man guilty in drowning death of stepdaughter

A King County Superior Court jury in Seattle found a Kent-area man guilty of second-degree murder April 28 for the drowning death of his 3-year-old stepdaughter in 2003 at a pool in his backyard.

A sentencing date is expected to be set in May for Joel Zellmer, 40s, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

King County Sheriff's Office detectives arrested Zellmer in 2007 at his home in the 22000 block of 159th Avenue Southeast in unincorporated King County, east of Kent.

Zellmer was married to the girl’s mother, Stacey Ferguson, at the time of the girl’s death. Zellmer said he found Ashley McLellan in the family pool at his home at about 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2003. She never regained consciousness and died two days later. Ferguson was not at home during the incident.

According to court documents, after initially ruling the drowning an accident, investigators from the sheriff’s office reopened the case after finding that the death fit a pattern of bizarre injuries and near-drownings to young children of women that Zellmer dated or married.

Zellmer had convinced Ferguson, whom he had married three months before the girl's death, to take out a $200,000 life insurance policy on Ashley’s life.

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