A death row inmate has received permission from a Florida judge to test decades-old evidence for DNA, whose results he claims will clear him of his wife’s, her parents’ and another man’s murder, online records show.
Prosecutors with the Conviction Integrity Unit of the State Attorney’s Office in the Ninth Judicial Circuit had helped make the request to test decades-old evidence for DNA.
In the mid-1970s, that same office of prosecutors argued that defendant William Thomas Zeiger — better known as Tommy Zeigler — shot and killed his wife Eunice Zeigler, his mother-in-law Virginia Edwards, father-in-law Perry Edwards, and another man by the name of Charles Mays Jr., according to court documents in the case. He also beat the men, authorities said. Jurors recommended a life sentence but trial Judge Maurice Paul overrode this and sentenced him to death for murdering Eunice and Mays.
Speaking and writing from prison, defendant Zeigler continued to maintain his innocence. He asserted to WESH in 2015 that modern DNA testing would exonerate him.
He maintained that if he really did beat his father-in-law and Mays to death, then he would have gotten their blood on him.
“It was a bloody mess,” he said. “How can you beat somebody to death and not get their blood on you?”
According to court documents, the murders occurred on Dec. 24, 1975, at his furniture store in Winter Garden, Florida. He just taken out a total of $500,000 on insurance policies covering his wife, though Zeigler has maintained he only did it under advice from an estate plan. Luring his wife and her parents to the business after closing, he shot and killed Eunice, likely by surprise, prosecutors said.
“The theory of the state’s case is that defendant had two appointments on Christmas Eve, one with Mays and one with Edward Williams,” Circuit Court Judge Reginald Whitehead wrote in 2016. “Prior to these appointments he took his wife to the store and in some manner arranged for his parents-in-law to go there. He killed his wife, Eunice, quickly, and for her, unexpectedly, since she was found with her hand in a coat pocket, shot from behind.”
Virginia likely tried to hide among the furniture, considering the location of her body, prosecutors said. Having sustained a gunshot wound to the hand, “huddled in a protective position when she was executed,” the court wrote, citing the prosecution. Perry struggled with the attacker but was shot as well.
Prosecutors said Zeigler tried to frame Mays. The defense was that Mays was implicated in robbing the store but the other robbers killed him.
“I did not kill my wife,” Zeigler told WESH in 2015. “I did not kill Mr. and Mrs. Edwards. I did not kill Mr. Mays.”
He claims the real killers jumped him.
“It was dark in there, and like I said, I was being bounced around like a ping pong ball, off the walls and everything,” Zeigler told out the outlet in a 2015 interview. “And I was shot!”
Prosecutors said that Zeigler had shot himself to make himself seem like the victim.
In addition to taking out the life insurance policy, he had recently gotten two revolvers, authorities had said.
“Thus was shown the means and the motive,” the court wrote.
Now the defense gets another chance to find to evidence to test the claim that Zeigler is a wrong man.
[Screenshot via WESH]
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