The Tampa bay Times announced Jan 3, 2019 that the Florida State Attorney’s office is “taking a fresh look” at the 1975 case of William Thomas Zeigler. Whether that fresh look is indeed an official review does not become clear in the article. However, we finally have a Florida state representative who “wants to introduce legislation to address both prosecutorial misconduct and problems with access to forensic science, including DNA testing.”
Zeigler has asked for a review since he was arrested. He and others are convinced that if we reviewed pre-trial evidence with modern technology it would support his claims of innocence. Examples of evidence to review: clothing (most notably the coat his wife Eunice Edwards-Zeigler was wearing that night), fingernail scrapings, and about eight guns. All items are preserved in a climate-controlled locker in Orlando.
Zeigler asked for advanced DNA testing six times and was always denied even though there would not be any costs for the taxpayers. His defense team has private fundings for these tests.
“For about two decades, the Ninth Judicial Circuit state attorney’s office has rejected Zeigler’s requests.”
So what has changed you might ask?
Current State Attorney Aramis D. Ayala’s office now includes a conviction integrity unit. This unit was established in September 2018. Check it out here. The “director of that unit is looking over the Zeigler case, according to a spokesperson for Ayala’s office. The office’s policy states that it will only “review applications where a plausible claim of innocence exists.” Ayala herself has declined to be interviewed.”
The director looking over Zeigler’s case is great but it isn’t the same as reviewing it for a plausible claim of innocence. If it was, it should have been clearly worded in the paper’s article. I hope that I am wrong and that the fresh look is indeed a thorough review of Zeigler’s claims of innocence.
On the State Attorney’s website it says that cases will advance in the following progression:
Phase 1 – Application
Phase 2 – Intake/Application Review
Phase 3 – Case Review Acceptance/Denial
Phase 4 – Accepted Case Investigation
Phase 5 – Recommendation to State Attorney
Phase 6 – Final Disposition by State Attorney
I hope to report soon that Zeigler’s has officially been accepted for review.
For those unfamiliar with the case: In December 1975, a quadruple murder took place in the Zeigler Furniture Store (Winter Garden, Florida). The victims were Charles Mays, Virginia and Perry Edwards, and their daughter Eunice Edwards-Zeigler. The fifth victim, William Thomas Zeigler, became the sole suspect because he survived.
The case is riddled by police misconduct (lying on the stand), prosecutorial misconduct (withheld evidence), and forensic testing disproving the charges. I have written so many posts about this case, I gave Zeigler his own category, check the left margin.
The latest: an evidentiary hearing for touch DNA testing was held on March 31, 2016. Judge Whitehead denied the request on July 18, 2016. On November 23, 2016, an appeal was filed in the Supreme Court of Florida. On April 21, 2017 the Florida Supreme Court denied the touch DNA request. On May 8, 2017 a motion for a rehearing with the US Supreme Court was filed. It was denied November 13, 2017. All blog posts about the Zeigler case can be found here.
Warning: some posts contain graphic images from the crime scene.