Monday, May 15, 2006

Was It Robbery, Murder for Money, or ....

Most of the facts presented here are taken from the extensive trial record discussed in Phillip Finch's Fatal Flaw: The True Story of Murder and Malice in a Small Southern Town.
The state argued that Zeigler killed his wife for the $500,000 insurance policy, and the customer to make it look like a robbery. But why do it in his own store and why kill the inlaws. He didn't need the money. The business was solid. An alternate theory which the state leaked was that Zeigler was homosexual, his wife found out, and she was going to leave him. (I'm not making this up.)

Zeigler claimed that it was apparently a robbery, but he also said that he had been threatened by the Winter Garden police because of Zeigler's efforts to stop the loan sharking racket involving local migrant workers.

The key testimony at trial came from Edward Williams, a black handyman that Zeigler had hired to help him make deliveries on Christmas Eve. If Williams told the truth, Zeigler is guilty. If not, there was a conspiracy that probably involved more than robbery.

Edward Williams came to the sheriffs office early Christmas day with one of the principal murder weapons, a gun that belonged to Zeigler who had kept it in his pick up truck. Williams told police that Zeigler had tried to kill him with the gun, but when he realized it was empty, he gave it to Williams and begged him not to tell anyone. (I'm not making this up.) Williams claimed he then jumped the fence behind the furniture store and ran to the Winter Garden Inn. He then crossed the street in front of the furniture store, went into the Kentucky Fried Chicken restuarant, tried to call police, got a wrong number, and then left and caught a ride home with friends. Williams' truck was left behind the furniture store in front of the loading door.

Another key witness, Felton Thomas, a black fruit picker, testified that he had come to the store with Charlie Mays, the murdered customer, to purchase a console TV which Zeigler had promised earlier that day to sell Mays at a bargain price. For unknown reasons, Mays parked his van in the back parking lot of the Winter Garden Inn in sight of the back of the furniture store, but behind a six foot chain link fence. (I'm not making this up, the van was still there when police found it.) Felton Thomas claimed that Zeigler drove up beside them at 7:30 PM (after the murders of Zeigler's wife and inlaws - a clock had been stopped by an errant bullet at 7:24) and asked them to ride with him to a nearby orange grove to test fire two cheap hand guns. After firing the guns they returned to the fence behind the store. Mays and Zeigler jumped the fence and went to the back of the store but couldn't get in. Thomas claimed he got scared and left, catching a ride home with friends. (I'm not making this up. It's all in the record.)
Later it was discovered that the two cheap hand guns had been purchased several months earlier by Frank Smith, a friend of Edward Williams. Frank Smith claimed that he bought the guns at the request of Zeigler whom he had never met. He said that Zeigler wanted some untraceable guns because of pending legislation that would prevent him from owning an unregistered gun. (Honestly, all this is really in the record used to dispel reasonable doubt. I'm not making this up - INMU.)

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Fatal Flaw According to Phillip Finch

For readers of this blog who were convinced of Zeigler's guilt by the previous summary of sworn testimony, you are about to read something that may cast doubt in your open minds....

Three policemen were first on the scene after Zeigler called the Winter Garden police chief, Don Ficke. They were Chief Ficke, Chief Robert Thompson of the Oakland police, and Winter Garden patrolman Jimmie Yawn. All three men knew Zeigler. Ficke was a friend who was supposed to go to a Christmas eve party with the Zeiglers, Thompson had been invited to the same party by Zeigler, and Yawn had been an acquaintance of Zeigler's since childhood.

Ficke and Thompson were at the party when Zeigler called Ficke and told him he had been shot and needed help. Ficke and Thompson left immediately and Thompson notified his dispatcher. Yawn was at the Winter Garden Inn (where Felton Thomas had run to escape from Zeigler, remember? INMU.) when he heard the call from Thompson. The time of the call was recorded as 9:21 PM.

Yawn raced out of the Winter Garden Inn, turned onto Dillard Street in front of the furniture store and almost broadsided the car of J.D. and Madelyn Nolan who were just driving by. They decided to stop and watch the action.

The Nolans testified that they watched the three police officers enter the store, carry out the wounded Zeigler, put him in Thompson's police car and take him to the hospital. They then went over to the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant because they saw J. D. Nolan's brother inside, apparently waiting for an order. The resturant was closed. While the Nolan's were standing outside the resturant door, a black man fitting Williams description came to the door and asked to call the police. He was admitted inside,used the store phone, and left saying he got a wrong number. He left the store and drove off with two acquaintances.

All of this occurred after Thompson called his dispatcher at 9:21. Williams testified that he had gone immediately from the Winter Garden Inn to the restuarant after he ran away from Zeigler and that the restuarant was open when he went in.

As Phillip Finch points out on page 317 of his book, if Williams is telling the truth "Zeigler was ...healthy when Williams jumped the fence .... His trip across the street, via the motel, could have consumed no more than a minute. In that time... Zeigler would have had to move Williams truck and wipe off his finger prints, bend the fork of the gate,go into the store and speak with Ted Van Deventer and Don Ficke, shoot himself, wait for the police to show up, be carried into the back of the squad car...and be driven to the hospital."

If Williams was lying, Zeigler is an innocent man on death row for thirty years.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Plenty of Questions for Conspiracy Theorists

By most accounts, Zeigler was well liked in the black community. His store served many blacks as customers. On the day he was kiled, Charlie Mays had come into the store with his wife to buy linoleum. They had credit there as did many others in the black community. Zeigler was apparently fair and had no obvious prejudice toward blacks.

Six months earlier, Zeigler had gone to bat for a black friend, Andrew James, who owned a liquor store. Zeigler was trying to stop the loan sharking that worked as follows: A migrant labor crew boss would pay his crew members daily in cash that was provided to him by owners of local stores. When the migrants got their checks at the end of the week, they would go to the stores to cash them. The store owner would deduct the amount owed from the checks plus 10% interest. The crew boss got a percentage of the interest. Zeigler believed Andrew James had been framed because the persons behind the loan sharking wanted his lucrative business.

Zeigler helped the lawyer defending James and testified as a character witness for him at trial. The beverage agent testifying against James had his own character witness - Judge Maurice Paul. INMU Andrew James kept his liquor license.

Chief Robert Thompson was hired by the city of Oakland (population in 2000 under 1000 people) in 1973 after several years with the Florida Highway Patrol, the US Border Patrol, and as head of security for Florida Gov. Claude Kirk. At 8:30PM he met Patrolman Jimmie Yawn at the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant across from the furniture store. He left the restaurant at 8:50PM and then drove to the party where he was when Zeigler called for help. It was learned by the defense later that Thompson was the apparent source of the rumors that were spread about Zeigler being a closet homosexual. Thompson resigned from the Oakland Police during Zeigler's trial. INMU.

In his book, The Appearance of Justice, former Orange County Chief Deputy Leigh McEachern says he contacted the Zeigler defense in 1981 to reveal information about a conference he had attended in the office of state attorney Bob Eagan prior to the trial. The conference included Judge Paul, but no member of the defense team. At the conclusion of the conference according to McEachern (page 6), "Judge Paul stated, 'Bob, if you get at least one first degree verdict, I will fry the son-of-a-bitch.'" McEachern passed a polygraph on this matter. He said he had reported the conference to his boss, Sheriff Mel Colman who told him not to say anything about the highly unethical meeting.

In 1987, a freedom of information act demand resulted in Zeigler's appellate attorney finding a record of an interview conducted by the state attorney's office prior to the trial of a Christmas eve guest at the Winter Garden Inn behind the furniture store. The interview had never been turned over to the defense. The hotel guest stated that he had seen a uniformed policeman leaning over the hood of his car with his gun drawn and pointing toward the back of the furniture store. He said this was around 9PM. After he saw the policeman, he heard shots being fired. The state attorney's office thanked the informant, but told him his information was not helpful! INMU.

Some obvious questions arise. What did officers Yawn and Thompson discuss at their meeting at the Kentucky Fried? Why was officer Yawn at the Winter Garden Inn when he got the call from Thompson? What did Edward Williams do from the time he jumped the fense in back of the furniture store until he arrived at the Kentucky Fried to make a phone call? Why did't he see the police cars in front of the store when he came out of the restaurant and report to them then? Why didn't the state attorney think the testimony concerning a police officer in back of the furniture store before hearing shots fired would be helpful?

Could the conspiracy be continuing even to this day. Is it merely judicial arrogance that has caused them to deny or restrict thirty years of appeals. The latest appeal based on DNA evidence that was unavailable at the time of the trial was rejected even though it indisputably refuted a prosecution claim that a large patch of blood on the underarm of Zeigler's shirt belonged to Zeigler's father in law. DNA showed that the blood was not from Zeigler's father in law, but was from Charlie Mays which supports the defense claim that Zeigler and Mays struggled after Mays was shot. Nonetheless, the court rejected the motion for a new trial based on this evidence saying that the father in law's blood could have been on a section of the shirt that was not tested. INMU

A final note for the conpiracy theorists. Former sheriff Mel Colman who lost an election to the current state attorney of Orange Co., Lawson Lamar (Lamar was an assistant state attorney in the prosecutor's office at the time of the trial, and was elected state attorney after Eagan retired)was found dead in his own pool in 2005. No one else was home at the time. He was the only person who might have been willing to confirm Leigh McEachern's claim that Judge Maurice Paul participated in an ex parte conference to discuss the trial and death penalty of a man presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. INMU

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

DNA Evidence Proves Zeigler Innocent! ...Oh Well, Who Cares.

Zeigler's t-shirt had Charlie Mays' blood on it not Zeigler's father in law as the state had argued.

Don Frye, the lead Orange Co. Sheriff detective, is living proof that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A few months before the crime, he had taken a short course on analyzing blood evidence. The Zeigler case was his first opportunity to show off his knowledge (or lack thereof.) The crime scene at the furniture store included four dead bodies, one gut shot person still alive, more than 20 bullet holes, eight different guns, and blood everywhere. Yet Super Spy Frye figured it all out in a couple of hours after stumbling (literally) over the evidence in the darkened store.

The two main conclusions from his analysis of the blood stains were 1) the heavy stains on the bottom of Charlie Mays’ (the black man who was shot and beaten to death) trousers and the caked blood on the soles of his shoes were Mays’ own blood.; and 2) the blood drenched underarm of Zeigler’s shirt was from Zeigler’s father in law. Because of prosecutorial, police, and court misconduct (read conspiracy) the pants were not tested before trial and the shirt blood was not sub-typed. DNA evidence was not possible to obtain 30 years ago.

Now we know what the DNA shows! The blood on Mays pants was from Zeigler’s father in law and the blood on Zeigler’s shirt was from Charlie Mays. Super Spy Frye got it 100% wrong. (Click here to view a closeup of the front and back of Zeigler's t-shirt.)
This totally supports the defense theory that Mays had come to harm Zeigler not to buy a TV. Zeigler and Mays struggled and both got shot. The crime scene photo reproduced in Phillip Finch’s book, Fatal Flaw, shows Mays’ body lying on a white terrazzo floor with no blood stains or foot prints near his body. That means the blood on Mays pants and shoes was dry when he was killed. Dry blood from Zeigler’s father-in-law means only one thing: Mays killed him, not Zeigler. It was at least 15 minutes later that Zeigler and Mays fought and by that time the blood on Mays pants had dried.

In April 2005, the circuit court refused to grant a new trial based on the DNA evidence in part because the prosecution argued that the other parts of the t-shirt that were not tested for DNA might have contained the father in law's blood. (I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP!). The Florida Supreme Court has ruled against Zeigler on all previous appeals and seldom reverses a lower court case. Zeigler’s time is short and the only ones who seem to care are the killers and the conspirators who are still at large!