By Roger Roy | Sentinel Staff
Writer Posted December 22, 2004
Pierre Mays sat in the back of an Orange County
courtroom Tuesday, staring intently at the man long ago sentenced to
death for killing Mays' father and three others on Christmas Eve
"I was 12 years old when he killed my dad," said Mays,
nodding toward William Thomas "Tommy" Zeigler, seated at the defense
table in a prison jumpsuit. "I'm 41 now. So it's been a long
For Mays, his mother and three brothers, attending
Tuesday's hearing was a way of standing up for the memory of father
and husband Charlie Mays. That's because Zeigler's latest -- and
perhaps final -- chance for a new trial is based on claims that
Charlie Mays was not an innocent victim, but a killer who was
himself killed by Zeigler in self-defense.
The Mays family
sat silently Tuesday as a lawyer for Zeigler accused Charlie Mays of
taking part in a violent robbery that ended in the deaths of
Zeigler's wife and her parents before Mays was wounded by Zeigler
and then finished off by his accomplices, who
"Charlie Mays was one of a group of perpetrators . .
. in a robbery-homicide," defense attorney John Houston Pope told
Orange Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead in closing arguments of the
Assistant State Attorney Jeff Ashton
countered that Zeigler killed his wife and in-laws and then killed
Mays in an attempt to make Mays look like the killer.
who went to Zeigler's furniture store that night to pick up a color
television set that was to be a Christmas present to his family, was
not a criminal, Ashton said, and witnesses at Zeigler's 1976 trial
testified to Mays' good character.
"Mr. Mays was a good man,"
Ashtold told Whitehead. "A hard-working man with a large
The defense's request for a new trial is based on
new DNA tests on samples of blood found on the clothing of Zeigler
and the victims. The tests, which can positively identify the person
a blood sample came from, weren't developed until years after
The prosecutor in the 1976 trial told jurors
that a blood stain on the left side of Zeigler's shirt was caused by
Zeigler holding his father-in-law Perry Edwards in a headlock while
bashing in his skull with a heavy metal crank.
DNA tests on
some of the blood on Zeigler's shirt showed that it came not from
Edwards, but from Mays.
Pope said that evidence, and the
finding of some blood from Edwards on May's pants, undermine the
prosecution's case, and would have persuaded Zeigler's jury to clear
"Would this new evidence change the verdict? Yes, it
would," Pope told Whitehead.
Ashton said the DNA tests proved
nothing except that it was Mays and not Edwards that Zeigler might
have been holding in a headlock, and that Mays was killed after
Edwards, which the prosecution had always alleged. Both victims had
extensive head injuries.
Ashton pointed to the other evidence
against Zeigler, including testimony that he bought the guns used in
the killings, that he secretly purchased a large life-insurance
policy on his wife shortly before the killings, and that he tried to
kill and frame an employee that night who escaped and went to the
police, taking with him one of the murder weapons.
nothing in this [DNA] blood evidence that refutes this at all,"
Whitehead did not say when he would rule in the
case, but the evidence he must consider includes extensive trial
transcripts thousands of pages long.
Roger Roy can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org