Florida Death Row Inmate Could Get New Trial

Almost 37 years ago, a Florida jury convicted an inmate of killing four people. Now, criminal defense attorneys for the death row inmate have discovered a witness who may offer a glimmer of hope to the man. His lawyers have asked a judge for a hearing that could result in a new trial for the inmate.

The inmate, now 67 years old, was a Winter Garden furniture store owner. On Christmas Eve, 1975, the inmate’s wife, in-laws and another man were shot to death in the inmate’s furniture store. Police found the inmate alive but shot in the abdomen. Investigators believed that the inmate shot himself in a plot to collect $500,000 in insurance. The inmate claims that he was shot while fighting his family’s attackers, and he has maintained his innocence for years.

His latest defense hinges on a new witness whose name was contained in an initial report of the shootings, but authorities dismissed him as an actual witness to the crimes, saying his name was a typographical error. However, the inmate’s lawyers say that they have found this mystery witness, and they accuse the state of hiding him at trial. The new witness was apparently a criminal who knew one of the murdered people, and he had committed a robbery at a location close to the inmate’s furniture store around the time of the murders.

A lawyer for the inmate argued that a hearing is warranted because the discovery of the witness and his testimony would have affected the jury’s verdict. The inmate’s lawyers intend to call the witness to testify at the hearing if the judge grants it. However, a senior prosecutor argued in response that the defense’s request is untimely because the witness’s identity has been known from the beginning.

This case shows that if you have been charged with a crime, or even convicted, hope is not lost. Not all charges are warranted, and not all convictions are accurate. Fortunately, everyone who is charged with a crime has the right to defend themselves against those charges. Knowing your rights and options can go a long way toward protecting your freedom.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, “Zeigler’s attorneys: We want a new trial,” Jeff Weiner, Aug. 30, 2012


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