Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Zeigler Never Got a New Trial

Pride - Arrogance - And maybe more.... Thirty-one years is a long time. But three men who were key players in the wrongful conviction of Tommy Zeigler 31 years ago are still controlling his fate today. Lawson Lamar is the state attorney for Orange County. Thirty-one years ago he was an assistant state attorney who, perhaps by chance, came to the murder scene on Christmas Eve soon after the crimes were discovered. With four dead bodies, multiple bullet holes, several different weapons, and blood stains everywhere (Click here to see the diagram of the crime scene in Philip Finch's book, page 2.) Lamar and a young inexperienced detective concluded within six hours of the time they entered the store that Tommy Zeigler had committed the crimes. Lamar resisted DNA testing and argued successfully that the DNA wasn't enough to overturn Zeigler's conviction despite the fact that it proved he did not kill one of the victims - and by implication NONE of them.

Why Trial Judge Maurice Paul refused to recuse himself from Zeigler's trial has always been a mystery - though no one with the power to go against him has ever investigated that mystery. (Click to Read Attorney's Memorandum on Paul's adverse rulings.) He was asked to recuse himself three times and his refusal was appealed the Florida Supreme Court without success. It is almost unheard of for a circuit judge to serve as a character witness in a trial. Yet that is what Paul chose to do in a case in which Zeigler was an opposing character witness. That in itself was probably a violation of judicial ethics, but then to refuse to step aside in the case against Zeigler just a few months later is so egregious a violation of the most vulgar perception of what is ethical that it brings discredit to the entire judicial system! As a sitting Senior Federal Judge in Tallahassee today, he can exercise behind-the-scenes influence which can only be imagined.

Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells was appointed directly to the court from private practice in Orange County. Justice Wells was on the court when another appeal of Zeigler's conviction was denied in the early 90's.
Whether he was a friend or merely an acquaintence of Judge Paul is not known, but it is known that he was a political adviser to Orange County sheriff Mel Colman. As such, lawyer Wells all but certainly advised Colman to stand mute when his chief deputy sheriff, Leigh McEachern, told him that trial judge Paul was colluding with the prosecution to deny Zeigler a fair trial. Colman ordered McEachern to say nothing about the unethical conference he had attended. Colman and McEachern had been friends since their days with the St. Petersburg Police Department. McEachern turned down the job of police chief of Winter Park when Colman asked him to help him modernize the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
As McEachern says in his book, The Appearance of Justice, page 7, "self preservation prevailed...." And he "quietly joined the Colman metamorphosis."

Politics in Orange County is a brutal business. Within a few years, McEachern was charged with misappropriating funds used by the department as "flash rolls" in apprehending drug dealers. He, too, was wronfully convicted, but he now has had his civil rights restored and he and his wife are the parents of eight adopted children between the ages of five and eighteen. Not long after McEachern's conviction, Colman lost an election to none other than Christmas Eve "johnny on the spot" Lawson Lamar who served two terms before taking over his current job.

Lamar - Paul - Wells. Powerful jurists! Master Politicians....

One is reminded of Lord Acton's famous quote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

As the Duke University rape case illustrates, laws are needed to prevent men who might have any agenda other than the objective consideration of the facts from taking a leading role in prosecuting or judging other men who are accused of criminal wrong doing.