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The Orlando Sentinel from Orlando, Florida • A10

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Orlando, Florida
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Page:
A10
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

From Page One A10 Orlando Sentinel Sunday, December 19, 2010 CF mas Eve, in one of Central bloodiest and most notorious crimes, wife, in- laws, Virginia and Perry customer Charlie Mays were murdered in Winter Garden furniture store. All were shot. Perry Edwards and Mays also were bludgeoned. Zeigler, now 65, was shot too, in the abdomen. Investigators soon determined wound was self-inflicted and identified him as the suspect in the massacre.

A jury, trial judges and the appellate courts all agreed with the theory. In early February, Zeigler is scheduled to get one more chance to make his case during an evidentiary hearing involving DNA testing. the last issue Zeigler has left to argue, but he says death frighten him. the Good Lord wants me, come take Zeigler says. then, the state of Florida, the governor, nobody can except Like Anthony case After the murders, case garnered the kind of media and public attention Casey Anthony case has.

But it has taken more than two years to litigate the Anthony case and ensure she gets a fair trial in May; Zeigler was tried and convicted about six months after the killings. Ajury selected in Duval County found him guilty and recommended a life sentence. The initial trial judge overrode that recommendation and sentenced Zeigler to death. Another judge handed him the same sentence afteran appeal. Even now, lawyers on both sides of the Zeigler case, the people who know it best, say the onceblood- soaked furniture store at 1010 S.

Dillard St. remains one of Central most complex crime scenes. The prosecution presented alargely circumstantial but multifaceted case. Half amillion dollars in insurance taken out on wife provided a motive. Weapons at the scene belonged to Zeigler.

An elaborate plan to lure several men to the store, make it look like they robbed the place and killed the Ed- wardses and Eunice Zeigler had gone awry. The prosecution argued that after killing his family and Mays of the stooges Zeigler was desperate and forced to shoot himself. Some of the most dramatic and compelling moments came when blood on shirt was dis- cussed. Then-State Attorney Robert Eagan asked Zeigler how type A blood ended up under the armpit of his shirt, noting that his father-in-law had type A blood. tell me how you held Perry Edwards around the neck and clubbed him with your right hand as you held him with your Eagan asked Zeigler.

sir, because I did not do Zeigler responded. DNA testing not available in the mid-1970s has since shown that blood on shirt was not his In fact, it was found to be the blood of Mays, a man Zeigler said he struggled with that night. sitting on a jury and somebody holds this shirt up and tells you that this is the blood of Perry Edwards and this man held in a headlock and beat him to death, how is that going to make you Zeigler asks today. going to feel like guilty as hell, you? When not Perry blood, do you think it would turn that whole jury Six years ago, attorneys argued the DNA evidence indicated Mays was in the store with blood on him at about the time of death. They strongly suggested Mays had something to do with the murders.

evidence would reasonably be expected to tip the scales and probably produce a different attorney, John Houston Pope said at the time. is grounds for a new Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton, who is now handling the case, responded by saying the evidence showing blood on shirt rather than blood would not have changed anything. Robert Eagan would have put in the name Charlie Mays instead of the name Perry Ashton said. have changed the outcome of the But Peggy Dollinger, one juror who helped convict Zeigler, today says that information could have made adifference. made up that scenario about him beating his father-in-law over the said Dollinger, now 81.

you start out with a false premise, you end up with a false she said. Terry Hadley, one of original attorneys, said, we had that DNA evidence, I have no doubt Tommy Zeigler would have walked a free Despite the lingering questions raised by advocates, Ashton has no doubt Zeigler is the killer. a very, very elaborate Ashton said. amazing in his ability to lie with almost no physiological truthfulness has always been central to the case. you think all of these other people are lying, it would be your duty to acquit Eagan told the jurors in 1976, if he is lying, my friend, he is methodical closing argument shows the blood stain on shirt was only a part of the theory.

The prosecutor wove a complicated timeline, stamped by a bullet that stopped a clock inside the store at He questioned why Zeigler was the only one left alive. He noted that all eight guns discovered were somehow linked to Zeigler and ar- gued that he was shot in safe Eagan said defense essentially was, being a contention Zeigler still holds. But for now, keeping the DNA issue alive keeps Zeigler alive. Hearing set soon In one of many defeats in this Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead said in a 2005 ruling the DNA test results did not show Mays was the perpetrator instead of a victim in the crimes, denying Zeigler a new trial. In August 2009, Zeigler requested a new round of DNA testing on clothing and shoes.

More than a year later, Whitehead, who cannot comment on the pending case, granted an evidentiary hearing and set it for Feb.3. Meanwhile, Zeigler, resembling an aging engineer with thick, plastic-frame glasses and total recall of his version of the truth, spends days reading, writing letters, exercising and keeping his faith. He insists if the new testing confirms the theory, will allay doubts that a man has been wrongly imprisoned for so On the other hand, Zeigler claims the results might used to finally set me Anthony Colarossi can be reached at acolarossi or 407-420-5447. ZEIGLER Continuedfrom PageA1 Death-row inmate Tommy Zeigler tells his version of events to Sentinel writer Anthony Colarossi recently at Union Correctional Institutionin Raiford. PHOTOS BY JACOB SENTINEL is always a very bad time of the year for Tommy Zeigler says.

Key reasons why Zeigler supporters claim he did not get a fair trial and reasons why prosecutors continue to maintain he is guilty and deserves the death sentence: case Judge Maurice Paul: Paul oversaw murder case. Several months before the crimes, however, Paul testified in an unrelated case as a character witness. Zeigler also testified as a character witness for the opposing side. Supporters say Paul should have recused himself based on the prior conflict. Instead, Paul heard murder trial, then overrode the recommended life sentence.

Unreleased police report: Defense attorneys say a report prepared by theOakland police chief, who responded to the crime scene, was not disclosed at trial. That report described gunshot wound as and covered in dry blood. It might have helped challenge the theory about the complex timing of the shootings, which likely occurred in stages. Witness Edward Williams and gunshot residue: Williams testified Zeigler tried unsuccessfully to shoot him and then handed him a gun the evening of the murders. Williams placed the gun in his pants and returned it to authorities soon after the killings.

Testing on pants Williams turned over showed no gunshot residue, but the results were not ready until after trial. Attorneys say that report could have been used to impeach testimony. Witness testimony not used at trial: Three witnesses not used by prosecutors appeared to undermine the theory about the timing of the crimes. And defense attorneys say one taped interview shows a to influence the testimony of one witness who had stayed at a motel near the furniture store at the time of the crimes. DNA testing: DNA testing not available at trial showed blood from father-in-law, Perry Edwards, was not on shirt as suggested by the prosecution back in 1976.

The blood of Charlie Mays, another man killed in the store, was found on shirt. blood was found on pants. Defense attorneys say these findings support story that he was involved in a struggle with Mays before being shot. The case Physical evidence: Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton maintains that physical evidence collected from the crime scene never matched DNA evidence explored during a special 2004 hearing showed Zeigler a man who has been shot twice lying on the floor Ashton insisted Zeigler is not on death row because jurors were convinced he held his father-in-law in a headlock, but for many other reasons. Witness Edward Williams and victim Charles Mays: If account of what happened that night is true, then it is very likely that a crucial witness, Edward Williams, and one of the victims, Charlie Mays, are implicated in the killings.

Ashton maintains that after decades of appeals and litigation, no evidence shows either man was capable of the violence. Life insurance: The prosecution placed the motive for the murders on life-insurance policies Zeigler had taken out on his wife, Eunice, months before the murders. The life insurance totaled about $500,000. an awful big Ashton said. Weapons in the store: Ashton argued during the DNA hearing that Zeigler is on death row in part because he purchased or acquired the guns found as in the store.

Testimony of witness Felton Thomas: Ashton noted during the DNA hearing the crucial trial testimony of Felton Thomas. He said Thomas testified that Mays was at the store at invitation, that Zeigler had him test-fire weapons earlier and that Mays and Zeigler walked into the furniture store together. nothing in this blood evidence that refutes that at Ashton argued. THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST ZEIGLER By Anthony Colarossi STAFF WRITER In 2004, DNA expert Shawn Weiss testifies for the defense about a bloody T-shirt, held by a defense attorney. JOE SENTINEL FILE In 1976, moving vans come to Winter Garden store where 4 people were slain on Christmas Eve 1975.

ORLANDO SENTINEL FILE An infamous crime Read coverage of the Christmas Eve massacre and the Zeigler case from the Sentinel archives at OrlandoSentinel.com Product: OS44Broadsheet PubDate: 12-19-2010 Zone: FLA Edition: ROP Page: User: estith Time: Color:.

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