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Suspects in California Valley torture case plead no contest to assault charges

Daniel Andrew Zeller, 42, was arrested Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, on suspicion of false imprisonment with violence, torture and possession of a controlled substance. Original story »
Daniel Andrew Zeller, 42, was arrested Monday, Nov. 14, 2011, on suspicion of false imprisonment with violence, torture and possession of a controlled substance. Original story »

Two men accused of torturing and beating a 27-year-old man with a hammer and blowtorch in California Valley entered pleas of no contest today to assault charges.

Daniel Andrew Zeller, 42, and Philip Clyde Williams, 44, entered their pleas to one count each of assault likely to cause great bodily injury. They're expected to receive credit for time served in San Luis Obispo County Jail and three years' felony probation at their respective sentencing hearings in March.

As part of the plea agreement, several other charges were dropped, including torture, false imprisonment by violence, and making criminal threats. The men could have been sent to prison for several years if convicted of those charges.

The victim, Travis Dames of California Valley, said the men invited him to help dig a koi pond on Nov. 9. Then, he said, the men assaulted and tortured him using a hammer, fork and blowtorch, and forced him into a cupboard. Dames was tortured for three days before he escaped, according to a search warrant filed by Sheriff's Office detectives.

The bizarre case garnered widespread media attention, including an article in the New York Daily News.

Deputy District Attorney Andy Cadena said in court that the victim was aware of the plea agreement and consented to it. More details about the case weren't released at the hearing.

Defense attorneys Mark Powers, who represented Williams, and David Vogel, who represented Zeller, asked that the police reports that with specific details about the case be kept out of the record. Judge John Trice received the reports today and will consider that request.

Williams is scheduled to be sentenced March 27, and Zeller is scheduled to be sentenced March 29. The defense attorneys declined to comment today, saying they expect to be able to speak about the case after their clients are sentenced.

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