Zeigler, Part XVI: On misplaced pride, loyalty, and sacrifice
On Nov 4, 2010, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley (a.k.a. the Memphis Three) will get their cases reviewed in a lower court hearing to see whether they should be granted a new trial. This means that they will be able to present new evidence that could exonerate them, such as DNA evidence that was not available at the time of the trial.
Defense attorney Dennis Riordan, who represents Damien Echols, told CrimeSider that the ruling made the case “an entirely new ball game.”
“The Court makes clear that Damien, Jason, and Jessie have presented substantial claims of innocence that must be given careful judicial consideration,” he said.
I applaud the Arkansas Supreme Court for doing what is right. If materials were never tested for DNA, as the technology was not available at the time of the trial, we should do it now to get final answers.
The Arkansas Supreme Court did even more. They also said that the lower court must examine claims of misconduct by the jurors who sentenced Damien Echols to death and Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin to life in prison.
So DNA testing and jury misconduct are key elements in the decision to grant a review. They are also key elements in the case of William Thomas Zeigler.
There are too many open questions in his case, and some of these can easily be answered by testing materials for DNA. At the time of the massacre in Zeigler’s furniture store on Christmas Eve of 1975, the technology for DNA testing was not available.
The state of Florida has done its best to make the case stick, but over the years the foundation of their argument has developed deep cracks. Some pillars on which their case rests have already been demolished.
As you will read below, the entire case is about to collapse. Does the state hope that sheer stubbornness will hold together their argument? Maybe it is misplaced pride; maybe it is a sense of loyalty and duty to uphold findings by professional colleagues. But should a human being be sacrificed for loyalty to colleagues, or for pride?
Let’s consider a few issues in the Zeigler case that make Vidocq believe that the state of Florida can no longer claim to be right.
Upholding the jury’s findings can only be done if you are sure that nothing has changed. A lot has changed.
The jury was hindered from the start by members who had already made up their minds, before the defense had finished presenting its case. “You can debate all you want but I have made up my mind; Zeigler is guilty!” That is what jury foreman Charles Ashley announced, right after he had been elected foreman. According to some of the other jurors, he had made up his mind about two weeks before the defense rested its case!
One juror in particular, Mrs. Irma Brickle, was harassed to make up her mind. When she resisted the pressure, alternate juror James Roberts stepped behind her seat, put one of the evidence revolvers to her head, and pulled the trigger. Remember that the jury had all the evidence in the jury room, including all the weapons found at the furniture store (but no ammunition). Other jurors shouted at Mrs. Brickle and called her names. Juror Peggy Dollinger confirmed that other jurors shouted at Mrs. Brickle when she tried to discuss the case.
After the Zeigler verdict was handed down, Mrs. Brickle was not able to function anymore. This resulted in her marriage breaking up. However, her ex-husband kept taking care of her even when she was eventually hospitalized. The enormous sacrifice this lady made for the truth was also recognized by Mr. Brickle’s second wife, who supported her husband in caring for his first wife.
When Zeigler’s attorney, Ralph Hadley, complained about jury misconduct, Judge Maurice Paul overruled him. The matter was closed. Judge Paul went so far as to issue a court order that bars the attorneys for Zeigler from any contact with the original jurors. Now why would a judge do that if he were sure that no misconduct had taken place?
Juror Peggy Dollinger signed an affidavit in February 2003. It states that, had she been aware of the evidence that we have now, she would have voted “not guilty”, and that would have changed the verdict. She mentioned, among other things, the DNA testing as highlighted in my post “Let’s talk blood.” She also mentioned the police report from the first officer on the scene, Chief Thompson. This report, a.k.a. “the Buried Thompson Report,” has been posted in full on DCC.
The 11th Circuit held that Zeigler had not met the burden of showing that the evidence (e.g. the Buried Thompson Report) hidden by the state would have made a difference in the jury verdict. Mrs. Brickle and Mrs. Dollinger disagree but who is listening? The attorneys for Zeigler are still barred from any contact with the original jurors. Consequently, no one seems to be able to introduce the Dollinger affidavit in court. I wonder…if we were allowed to talk to all the original jurors now, what their reactions would be. Wouldn’t you like to know?
Clearly, the state can no longer claim it is defending the jury verdict.
Unexplained physical evidence
The state of Florida never explained any of the following:
1: Bloody footprints near the body of Mrs. Eunice Edwards Zeigler did not belong to any of the victims or to Zeigler. Tom Delaney, the FBI specialist who examined the footprints, stated that they could not have been left by Zeigler’s shoes. Delaney testified to this effect in court. If those footprints are not Zeigler’s, it follows that some unknown people were in the store making these bloody footprints. Why are we not looking for them?
2: Property receipts showed that technicians had found a .22 Long Rifle cartridge hull in the back of the store. Of the eight pistols connected to the case, this shell could only have been fired from the .22 automatic that Zeigler carried with him on Christmas Eve. Remember that Zeigler used to carry a weapon since he frequently took large amounts of cash to the bank. The .22 automatic is the jammed gun which Zeigler said he had tried to defend himself with at the back of the showroom. So the .22 pistol had been fired once but by whom? And where was the slug?
In a two-week examination of the store, attorney Vernon Davids and PI Gene Annan found a .38 caliber slug and a .38 caliber exit hole in the north wall, which deputies had missed. They believed that this accounted for all of the .38 caliber shots that were fired in the store. But there were no signs of the .22 slug.
Neither Zeigler nor the four murder victims had been shot by a .22 caliber. If the slug did not exit through the walls, it could only have left the store one way: in the body of one of the unknown perpetrators, as he walked out or was carried out.
3: One of the close-up photographs of Charlie Mays showed a human tooth lying on the sleeve of Mays’s dark sweatshirt. Mays had lost a single tooth when he was beaten, and that tooth was recovered against the north wall of the showroom.
None of the other victims had lost a tooth. It did not belong to Zeigler either. Felton Thomas claimed that he never entered the store so…could it be from Edward Williams? Did the state ever check that it wasn’t Williams’ or Felton’s? Or, does it belong to a person that we still need to identify, who may have played a role in this huge mess of a massacre?
According to police property receipts, the tooth in the photograph was never recovered. Yet, it clearly did exist. So this tooth was never found again but it lives on in crime scene photographs.
4: Who manipulated Mays’ dead body?
The state of Florida has never explained discrepancies between sworn statements of their own law enforcement officers and the crime scene photographs as it was made public.
Somehow between Officer Yawn being in the store and the official crime scene photographs, Mays’ dead body underwent a few changes. We already know that a tooth found on his sweatshirt disappeared but there is more. Below you see the part where Yawn describes seeing Mays’ dead body. Start reading at line 15.
Mays’ right arm is stretched out, the crank is next to his right hand, his zipper is open, and his pants are down.
Officer Yawn was also questioned about Mays’ pants. Check from line 5 onwards.
Between Yawn being on the crime scene and the photographs that were used in the media and during trial, someone moved Mays’ right arm, took the crank away, placed arm and crank in a different position, took the tooth away, opened Mays’ fly and pulled down his pants…
Either this is a very sloppy handling of a crime scene or someone deliberately manipulated it to hide traces that would point to the real perpetrators. Sloppy is possible. Manipulated is far more likely. Since Mays’ dead body was later photographed with the fly open and pants partially pulled down, we should check the pants and the zipper for any biological material that we can test for DNA.
Any loose ends like these are unacceptable in a capital case.
The timely call
The state contended that Zeigler called for help after he had killed everyone. Then, knowing that he would get help soon from Mr. Van Deventer and Chief Ficke, he took a gun and shot himself in the abdomen to make it look like he was a victim as well. Then, he waited quietly for the cops to come to his rescue.
The problem with this theory is of course, that as soon as Van Deventer received Zeigler’s call, he and his guest Chief Ficke ran out the door, met outside with Chief Thompson, and sped towards the furniture store. Remember this was Christmas Eve. The Van Deventer Family was hosting a huge party. Many police officers were invited as well as the Edwards and the Zeiglers. That is also the reason why Tommy called Van Deventer. He knew all his friends were there. He expected his family to be there.
Van Deventer, Ficke, and Thompson arrived within minutes at the store. During that time, it would have been impossible for an abdominal wound to have stopped bleeding and for all that blood to have dried up. When Chief Thompson took Zeigler to the ER and carried him to his squad car while wearing a white police uniform shirt, he did not get any of Zeigler’s blood on himself. Why? Because all the blood on Zeigler was dry. Zeigler told the truth about passing out before calling for help.
Chief Thompson wrote down his observations in his police report that has been published in full here on DCC (see above). This report was not given to the defense before trial or during discovery.
In 1987, after Florida passed its Public Records Act, Zeigler’s appellate attorneys were granted access to the state attorney’s files of the case. Leslie Gift, a paralegal in Vernon Davids law office, had catalogued the original discovery evidence in 1976. She examined the documents in the Zeigler file and discovered the “Buried Thompson report”…more than a decade later!
The state of Florida carefully put together the theory that Zeigler killed all four people without the help or assistance from others.
The State contended that Zeigler fired all 28 shots with 8 guns. However, there was no gunshot residue found on Zeigler’s pants.
It is highly unlikely that Zeigler could have fired 28 shots from 8 guns in different parts of the store in what the Roaches labeled “two fire cracker like bursts.” The Roaches, witnesses who heard the shooting, stated that they heard rapid firing at different loudness levels, suggesting more than one person firing shots from different angles. They signed an affidavit in 1979.
In the affidavit, Ken Roach claimed that he had called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office after Zeigler’s indictment and had given this information to a woman working there. That lady told him that his statement wasn’t needed and refused to give him Zeigler’s defense counsel’s name.
I’d like to see a reconstruction with one person shooting 28 shots with eight different guns from different places within the store and making it sound like “two fire cracker like bursts.”
The Suppressed Jellison Tape
The state claimed that the shootings took place between 7:00-8:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve, 1975. Four eyewitnesses, whose testimony the state suppressed and hid from the defense for more than a decade, said that the shootings took place after 9:00 p.m. AND after the police arrived at the store.
In April of 1987, when Zeigler’s lawyers made a Florida Public Records Act request for the files of the State Attorney in Orlando, they discovered (aside from the “Buried Thompson report”) a tape-recorded telephone interview with Mr. John Jellison. The interview had been conducted on April 30, 1976, by a state investigator named Mr. Jack Bachman. The tape had been hidden by the State Attorney’s Office, which failed to disclose anything about this tape before the trial and even in answering requests for disclosure in conjunction with Zeigler’s appeals.
Mr. John Jellison, his parents, and his sister, were staying at a motel next to and behind the Zeigler furniture store on Christmas Eve, 1975. They witnessed some of the happenings outside the store. Mr. Jellison told the investigator that at about 9:00 p.m., he and the rest of his family saw a police car at the back of the store. A police officer was aiming his gun towards the store over the top of the squad car. Then, they heard shots as they were watching. Then they saw that other police cars had arrived on the scene.
The state’s investigator made his disappointment with Mr. Jellison’s recollection plain: “[A]s long as you heard the gunshots after, you know; you saw the police car, that wouldn’t help us a bit.” When Mr. Jellison asked if Mr. Bachman wanted to interview his mother as well, Mr. Bachman replied: “Not unless, you know, you all get together and decide you heard those gunshots before you saw the police car. In that case, we’d give you a free trip back to Florida.”
Do you need evidence that the Jellisons were right?
On that fateful night, Chief Thompson arrived at the Van Deventer home (for a Christmas party where the Zeiglers and the Edwards were also expected as guests) and he logged out at 9:18pm. He got out of the squad car, walked towards the house, and saw Mr. Van Deventer and Chief Ficke coming out in great haste.
Chief Ficke explained to him that there was trouble at the Zeigler Furniture store. He had just witnessed the phone call Zeigler placed to his friend Van Deventer knowing that his friends and family were there. The two policemen turned their emergency lights on and drove off to Zeigler’s store. Chief Thompson radioed the Winter Garden dispatch for backup and explained that he was on his way to Zeigler’s under Chief Ficke’s authority (Thompson was Oakland’s Chief of Police and outside his jurisdiction). Hence, the shooting and the arriving on the scene of more police cars took place after 9:18 pm as was stated by the eyewitnesses. Ficke and Thompson (later joined by Yawn) were the first officers on the scene! They were the first to arrive at the front of the furniture store! Zeigler had only called minutes ago. This is the moment the Jellisons saw: police cars arriving at the scene!
To this day, this order of events is denied by the state.
Zeigler’s attorneys raised the issue that the Jellison tape contradicts the State’s version of the events, as well as that the State hid the tape from, (1) the trial court, (2) from discovery during the trial, and (3) from all the appeals. The Court of Appeals held that this issue should have been raised before January 1, 1987, which was the time period for Zeigler’s state claims for relief. Zeigler’s lawyers pointed out that the State had kept the tape hidden until April of 1987. The Court denied relief anyway, and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed that denial.
Modern technology not available then offers us options now. Let’s review ALL biological materials for DNA as current technology makes possible.
As in the Memphis Three case, there is a lot of material that was never presented in court on behalf of Zeigler.
Clearly, the state contradicted itself.
Obviously, the lower court allowed that to happen.
Sadly, the higher courts approved.
We have a new chance to redeem ourselves and judge this case based on ALL the evidence. As I said before, upholding a verdict out of misplaced pride is wrong. It comes at a price.
That price is the sacrifice of a human being: William Thomas Zeigler.