Suspect in California Valley torture case pleads not guilty

The two men accused of torturing a man in California Valley last week appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Friday, and one entered a plea of not guilty.

Daniel Andrew Zeller, 42, pleaded not guilty to five felony counts and 13 enhancements, including the use of a deadly weapon. He and 44-year-old Philip Clyde Williams Jr. are accused of holding a man captive inside a trailer and stabbing him with a fork, hitting him with a hammer and burning him with a blowtorch.

Zeller and Williams face felony charges of torture, false imprisonment by violence, assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.

Zeller, who said he couldn’t afford a lawyer, was appointed local defense attorney Paul Phillips. Appearing before Judge John Trice, Zeller also said he didn’t want to waive his statutory right to a speedy trial and will appear for a pre-preliminary hearing Nov. 29 and a preliminary hearing Dec. 2.

Zeller’s decision is unusual for a criminal defendant. They usually listen to the advice of their attorneys to delay the case past the statutory time limit to allow for more preparation in the defense of the charges.

Williams did not enter a plea Friday because he hadn’t had a chance to meet with his expected court-appointed attorney, Mark Powers. Williams is scheduled to appear again in Trice’s courtroom Tuesday.

The two defendants are likely to be tried together, so both could face a preliminary hearing Dec. 2 if Zeller continues to deny his right to a time waiver.

The name of the victim, who escaped after being held for three days, has been kept confidential in charging documents and in court.

A possible motive for the alleged crime hasn’t been announced by authorities.