Zeigler, Part XI: On Juror Intimidation and Judicial Override
You can debate all you want but I have made up my mind; Zeigler is guilty!
That was what jury foreman Charles Ashley announced right after he had been elected foreman. According to other jurors, he had made up his mind about two weeks prior … before the defense had finished its case!
Psychologist Dr. Stephen Robertson, conducted interviews with jurors Irma Brickle and Peggy Dollinger. He listed some of his information in an affidavit that is published here on DCC. Note that Irma’s last name is spelled Brickle by Finch in his book “Fatal Flaw” but spelled Brickel by Dr. Robertson.
Page one of the affidavit tells you a little more about the judge’s behaviour during the Zeigler trial. We have not touched on Judge Paul’s conduct during trial yet but be patient with Vidocq. It will all come out. Page two introduces you to jurors Dollinger and Brickle. Note paragraph 5, in which Dollinger stated that “she felt that Judge Paul was implying that Mr. Zeigler was guilty, and that defense counsel was wasting everyone’s time.” Underneath that is in part the very sad story of Irma Brickle, the sole holdout, who after the verdict never was the same again. On page three under paragraph 7, you can read what Dr. Robertson thought: “I do not think Mrs. Brickle was of sound mind when she agreed to vote to convict Mr. Zeigler. I do not think that, at that point, she was able to make a free decision.”
Why not? What is it that caused Mrs. Brickle’s breakdown after the Zeigler verdict? Why was she hospitalized, divorced from her husband but despite that divorce, her ex-husband and his new wife still take care of her? What caused this woman to become so despondent?
Well, it involved cries of help to the judge in the shape of notes but he never helped her. It involved guns held against her head combined with people screaming at her in the jury room…
Skeptical? I understand so let’s build this up layer by layer, shall we?
When jury deliberations started one juror became too ill to continue, Irma Brickle. This threatened a mistrial. Brickle rested for about two hours; recovering somewhat but ultimately her physician was called in for treatment. Her condition would worsen during the deliberations to the point where she was given valium right before she voted…
What caused this?
Vidocq is going to quote Philip Finch since he is clearly the better author! Read this:
“Friday, July 2, 1976, was the eve of the nation’s Bicentennial celebration. Anyone who was involved with Florida v. Zeigler must remember it as a day of uncertainty and tension and turmoil, and then decision.
At 9 a.m., as the jury reconvened, Judge Paul called Eagan (DA) and Hadley (defense counsel) into his chambers.
Irma Brickle had told a bailiff that she wanted a private conference with the judge; if not alone, then with the two attorneys present. This request was problematic. The judge could not speak with any juror apart from the others.
“I really don’t want to bring her in,” Paul said. “Judge, I just don’t know,” Eagan said. “I’ve never had this come up before…. I think the thing is fraught with peril in that if we do bring her in we might have a mistrial right here.”
They debated whether to send her a note asking her to explain.
“It might not be anything, you know, but it might be something,” Paul said. “That is why I wanted to just sit down and talk to you a minute. I don’t want the press. That is why we came back here. I don’t want anything in the press about this.” “That’s right,” Eagan said. Eagan speculated whether it could be misconduct by one of the other jurors. “It could very well be, but you never know,” Paul said. “…Of course, it’s all just speculation.”
Hadley noted that Brickle and the juror who had been excused a week earlier, Johnestine Young, “seemed to carry the burden of being on the jury probably more heavily than anyone else, you know, just from the trial, watching their facial expressions and things like this.”
“A lot of those people in there have never had to make decisions that anywhere approach the decision they are back there making today,” Paul said.
Paul told the bailiff to take Brickle away from the rest of the jury, on the pretext that she was going to be examined by a nurse. Then the judge wrote a note to her, asking her to “advice, in writing, the nature of the subject matter you wish to discuss.” He told the bailiff: “Don’t let anyone know what is in the note at all. We don’t want anyone to know what is going on here but these lawyers, okay? The bailiff took the note to her, and brought back a written reply:
Request concerns other jurors and decisions
made before they permited [sic] to make them.
“I don’t think I understand it,” the judge said, and he showed it to the attorneys. They speculated what it meant:
PAUL: What she is talking about, I think, is when they were in there somebody was announcing a decision.
EAGAN: Apparently some of them have said how they stand. I don’t think from that they have made a vote yet.
HADLEY: Or before it was submitted to them.
DAVIDS: That is what she is saying, they had discussions at some point before it was submitted to them for consideration.
EAGAN: Well, why did she wait this long to tell us?
PAUL: I don’t think that is what it is.
Eagan recommended that the entire jury be brought in and instructed that their duty was to “discuss the thing, work together on it.”
She (Brickel) was still alone in the bailiff’s room. They decided to send a second note to her. Paul wrote: “Do you mean decisions announced before or after the case was submitted to the jury on Wednesday afternoon?” The reply came back:
Statement made immediately after foreman was elected
and numerous other things this is just the main item.
And below that was written:
made befor [sic] Wed. afternoon.
A juror could announce an opinion at any time after the deliberations began. But any such statement made before then would be improper. Paul and the attorneys examined the note.
PAUL: Not bad. “Statements made generally right after the foreman was elected.”
HADLEY: Statements made before Wednesday afternoon.
PAUL: Well, I get the impression from that she is talking about since they were put in there Wednesday.
EAGAN: Some of them have obviously expressed their opinion regarding the weight of the evidence or something of this nature and she has heard it and it has got her disturbed. That is really what the jury is supposed to do.
PAUL: I really don’t think we ought to go any further with this.
HADLEY: Your Honor, what does that portion “statements made before Wednesday afternoon” that she put in there narrow it down to? I don’t know, I am just disturbed by that part of her response….
EAGAN: She doesn’t say that anyone has expressed prior to Wednesday an opinion as to guilt or innocence.
PAUL: She hasn’t even said that. “Statements made immediately after foreman was elected and numerous other things. This is just the main item.”
HADLEY: But then—
PAUL: It comes down and says “made before Wednesday afternoon,” which is—
HADLEY: She has got down “made before Wednesday afternoon.
HADLEY: How about just direct a question, “Were statements made prior to the case being submitted to the jury that would indicate someone had a preconceived notion?”
PAUL: I think we would we in bad shape if we started to do that.
HADLEY: What concerns me is the lady obviously thought it was serious enough to bring to our attention, so I am wondering if it is something that was said before Wednesday afternoon.
EAGAN: She is a nervous lady, though, and her view of that is not justfied by the
information that she has given us. I don’t think there is anything here that would justify us now going into an inquiry to determine whether or not we are going to upset this jury’s deliberations….
Further contact with a sole juror jeopardized the integrity of the jury’s work. But if another juror had announced a premature decision, then the trial was already compromised. And although Brickle hadn’t hinted where she stood, both sides understood that she might be feeling the strain of being a sole holdout: the verdict could be imminent.
Hadley argued that Paul should ask her to be more specific: “…I think even the possibility of jury misconduct cannot be overlooked and must be inquired into. I don’t know, I am in strange territory right now and I just don’t know, but if there was jury misconduct I think we need to know about it.”
At this point Brickle had already been out of the jury room for several minutes. The others, presumably, were still discussing the case: they had not been instructed otherwise. Paul said that he favored sending Brickle back into the room to resume deliberations, and Eagan agreed: “If she should come in here and say some other juror had done something, then we have got to talk to that juror, and immediately we are dividing this jury.”
Paul ordered that Brickle be sent back to deliberate with the others. His third note seemed final: “After consideration, it appears that there is no present need to have a conference. Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention.”
But that did not end it. At 12:15 the jury broke to go out for a meal; the judge noticed that Mrs. Brickle looked pale as she left the room. A few minutes later, she collapsed, unconscious. A bailiff revived her, and she fainted a second time. She had to be carried to a courthouse office, apart from the others.
“She is up there and has passed out twice on us in an hour,” Paul told the attorneys. “She is tight as a tick.” They were looking at a possible mistrial again, with the question of Brickle’s health thrown in. “I can never recall being quite as wrung out from a case as I am right now from this one,” Hadley said. They considered the possibility of having Brickle examined either by a jailhouse doctor or her own physician, who had sent in medication the day before.
Eagan, Hadley, and the judge went to the office where Brickle had been taken. But they did not see her; they sent a nurse to ask her whether she wanted a doctor. Brickle answered, through the nurse, that she did not want to talk to a doctor. She wanted to talk to Paul. She felt that she was being pressured, the nurse said; one of the jurors had told her, “If you would make up your damn mind we could get out of here.”
Paul instructed the nurse to tell her that he could not and would not talk to her, and the bailiffs sent her back with the others.
Now Hadley believed, almost to a certainty, that Brickle was a holdout against conviction. On the way back to the courtroom, he moved for a mistrial. Back in Paul’s chambers, they put it on the record. Mrs. Brickle, he said, “…is being pressured by other jurors to make a decision which she is either morally or conscientiously opposed to…. This pressure has been of sufficient magnitude to cause her these physical problems…. Therefore the defense feels that any verdict brought would be as a result of the emotional strain and trauma being placed upon this lady as opposed to being a true verdict based upon the evidence and the law…”
Eagan argued against it. “…As I understand it she feels pressured to make a decision, not to change a decision already made,” Eagan said. “It would seem to me that this is what a juror is expected to do, and it is one of the burdens they bear as jurors. In this case it is an extremely heavy burden on what apparently is an emotional lady, or at least a lady who has shown less strength in that regard to make heavy decisions than her fellow jurors, but I don’t submit that it is grounds for a mistrial.”
Apparently Eagan, too, believed that Brickle was a holdout. He suggested that the jury be called in and instructed to consider the views of their fellow jurors. This is a standard lecture designed to break a deadlock—the so-called “Allen instruction,” also known as “the dynamite charge.” Paul denied the motion for a mistrial, and he told Eagan that he was not ready to deliver dynamite. He sent the clerk of the court to bring Irma Brickle back into the jury room. It was 2:50 p.m.
At 5:00 p.m., the jury announced that it had a verdict. Zeigler was brought in from the cell, nervous and a little dazed. Another bailiff had told him that the clue to a verdict was in the jurors’ demeanor when they came into the courtroom. If they looked directly at the defendant, it meant that they had acquitted. If they avoided looking at him, they had found him guilty. Zeigler studied them as they filed in. Most of them averted their eyes. Irma Brickle looked at him, but she was crying, and the look in her eyes was pity.
The foreman Charles Ashley handed the verdict forms to the clerk, who gave them to Paul, who gave them to the clerk to be read:
In the death of Eunice Zeigler, guilty of murder, first degree.
In the death of Charles Mays, guilty of murder, first degree.
In the death of Perry Edwards, guilty of murder, second degree.
In the death of Virginia Edwards, guilty of murder, second degree.”
Dr. Robertson learned that the first vote was an even split; voting for conviction were the five black jurors and James Roberts, the alternate who had been added to the panel. Gradually, Zeigler’s support eroded. By Thursday afternoon, Brickle was the last holdout.
Both Brickle and Dollinger described an atmosphere of intimidation as the jury panel tried to change Brickle’s mind. Both jurors said that when Brickle would try to make a point, Roberts would step behind her seat, put one of the revolvers to her head, and pull the trigger (The jury had all the evidence in the jury room including the weapons, but no ammunition.) Other jurors shouted at her and called her names. Dollinger confirmed that other jurors shouted at Brickle when she tried to discuss the case.
“I suppose it could even have come to actual violence,” Dr. Robertson quoted Dollinger. “It was a very frightening situation.” Brickle was upset because other jurors refused to look at the evidence on the table beside her. She couldn’t get them to study the photo of the tooth on Charlie Mays’s sweatshirt. She blamed her illness on the intimidation and the tension in the room; she was unable to eat or sleep. Brickle told Dr. Robertson that she didn’t understand why the judge had failed to help her when she told him that she needed help.
The sentencing phase of the trial, held July 16, 1976 was literally moot for a number of reasons. The jury deliberated less than twenty-five minutes before returning an advisory sentence of life in prison.
At Hadley’s request, Paul now brought several members of the jury, individually, to be questioned in his chambers. He was inquiring about two minor allegations of misconduct—during the trial, Peggy Dollinger had brought a newspaper into the jury room, and Leatrice Williams was believed to have overheard a reporter’s unflattering remark about Zeigler. But most important, Hadley wanted him to ask Irma Brickle about her claim that jury members had made up their minds prematurely. Zeigler was barred from this proceeding.
Paul seemed hesitant as he asked Brickle to explain the notes she had sent during the deliberations.
Q (Paul): …I was wondering if you wish to make any further elaboration about, you know, what you may have said or if you feel that—whatever. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. We just want to make sure there was a good jury in the sense that everyone—
A (Brickle): If I could call back the Friday, I would have changed my mind. In fact, I almost did. I still feel he’s innocent. My reasons don’t seem to be important or they weren’t.
Q: But you stated in open court that that was your verdict.
A: I know I did, but I just couldn’t take any more.
Q: Well, we are not concerned—
A: I felt I couldn’t take any more.
Paul refused to question any of the other jurors about Brickle’s claims. He ruled that Dollinger and Williams had not violated the integrity of the trial. He dismissed the jurors with a strong recommendation that they not comment to reporters. Hadley complained that Paul’s questions to Brickle hadn’t adequately addressed the possibility of juror misconduct, but the judge overruled him. The matter was closed.
Now the judge began to pronounce sentence, reading from a typed statement. Florida juries can only recommend a sentence; Paul’s judgment here would be binding. It is called judicial override.
“This Court has considered the advisory sentence returned by the Jury this morning,” the statement began, and Paul went on to say that he had also been considering the evidence. “Why you, sir, wanted to kill your wife may never actually be known. However, the record does show one motive which is money, five hundred thousand dollars worth of it.”
At this moment Hadley realized that the judge was overruling the verdict. Under Florida law, murder for money is one of the aggravating circumstances which allow a sentence of death!
“The reason in the record for killing Charles Mays is more obvious: to cover up your involvement in the death of your wife. From the evidence it appears Mr. Mays was like a lamb being led to the slaughter, and slaughter it was.
“The killing of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, from the verdict and I believe from the reasonable inferences of the evidence, apparently was not part of your original scheme but was the result of, unfortunate for them, happenstance; it appearing that they came to the store, they cannot be permitted to leave and, from the evidence, were executed.
“The evidence further shows the last step of your preconceived plan was to lure Edward Williams to the store and kill him to make it look like he too was part of a gang whose purpose was to commit robbery. Had this part of your plan succeeded, then we wouldn’t be here today in this court of law.
“The law of this state permits a sentence of death for premeditated murder. The facts of this case require it.”
For each of the first-degree convictions, Tommy Zeigler was to be committed to a state prison, “and at a time to be fixed by the Governor of the State of Florida, you shall be put to death by means of electrocution as provided by Florida Statute 922.10. May God have mercy on your soul.”
In 1988, Irma Brickle stated that on the afternoon of the last day of jury deliberations, she was given valium to calm her nerves; shortly afterwards, she said, she gave in to pressure from other jurors and voted to convict.
Peggy Dollinger signed an affidavit in February 2003. It states that had she been aware of evidence we have now, she would have voted “not guilty” and that would have changed the verdict. She mentions amongst other things the DNA testing as highlighted in the post “Zeigler, Part IX Let’s talk blood.” She also mentioned the police report from the first officer on the scene, Chief Thompson. This report has been posted in full on DCC in the post “Zeigler, Part VII.”
To be continued…