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Men accused in torture case spared prison time

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) – Two men originally charged in a bizarre torture case involving a fork, hammer and blowtorch have pleaded no contest to felony assault in a deal that spared them prison time, though their accuser was sentenced separately to two years in prison.

Daniel Andrew Zeller and Philip Clyde Williams Jr. were accused of holding Travis Michael Lord captive for three days inside a rural California Valley trailer, where he was stabbed with a fork, hit with a hammer and burned with a blowtorch. Authorities were unable to get a credible account of what happened, since the men all gave conflicting stories and two said they had been on a monthlong meth binge.

Charges of torture and false imprisonment were dropped against Zeller and Williams as part of a plea deal. Lord, who was convicted in 2003 for molesting a boy in New York, was sentenced Tuesday to prison for failing to register as a sex offender.

Authorities never offered a motive for the alleged torture, and the men’s conflicting accounts couldn’t be resolved, the San Luis Obispo County Tribune ( reported.

“Credibility problems surfaced, and all the parties involved in the investigation portrayed the events differently,” a county probation report stated.

“It was difficult to obtain a chronological and detailed interview with the victim as at times, he was uncooperative and complained about questions,” the probation report stated.

Lord told investigators Zeller and Williams tortured him in the trailer for three days and that he escaped on Nov. 11. Zeller, who said he had been on a 32-day methamphetamine binge with Lord, denied any torture.

“I got into a fight with him because he told me he was a child molester,” Zeller told probation officials. “I told him to leave my place and he wouldn’t leave. I flipped out on him, and I am sorry for hurting him,” he said.

Lord told investigators that Zeller requested oral sex.

“That’s fantasy,” Zeller lawyer David Vogel said, adding most of Lord’s allegations were untrue.

Williams, 45, said he wasn’t involved in the incident and that his wife wouldn’t have stood for it, according to the probation report. His marriage to 87-year-old Leora Wadhams in June in Nevada was annulled in December because “the victim in this case was going to sue for their property,” the probation report stated.

“They plan on marrying shortly after he’s released from custody,” the report added.

Zeller and Williams had been held for about four months in jail, and was given credit for time served. San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge John Trice on Tuesday also placed them on three years’ probation.


Information from: The Tribune,

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