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How Bad Could Things Get For A White Man Who Stood Up for A Black Man Who Was Being Framed by Other White Men In The Deep South Of Rural Central Florida in 1975?
— The Story of William Tommy Zeigler, Jr. A Good Samaritan Sitting On Floridas Death Row For Over 28 Years. » Back to Menu
The New Discovery Of A Then-15-Year Old Story
In 1991, Phillip Finch came to Winter Garden, a town of 5,000 in Orange County, Florida about 12 miles west of Orlando in a rough and rural area called West Orange, to write about the Christmas Eve 1975 shootings at the W.T. Zeigler Furniture Store, a crime that left four dead and one near death. The lone survivor, Tommy Zeigler, had a near-fatal gunshot wound in the abdomen. The dead, his wife, Eunice, her parents, Perry and Virginia Edwards, and Charlie Mays, a local man, were all found inside the store.
At Christmas Eve 1975, the Zeigler family boasted a growing wealth of over one million dollars, Tommy and Eunice Zeigler had been happily married for 8 years and the family business, dating back to 1939, was prospering. Charlie Mays and his wife shopped there since 1960 because, at that time, Zeigler Furniture was one of the few white-owned businesses in West Orange that served blacks.
Edward Williams, a black man who had known the Zeigler family for almost 20 years as a customer and a part-time employee, would also figure in the days events. As would Felton Thomas, one of the itinerant pickers who returned to West Orange for harvest each year.
The Winter Garden of 1975 did not differ from the Winter Garden of 1960 in any important ways. In the picking season, thousands of migrant workers, mostly black, filled the labor camps around the groves. Just outside the town was the Stomping Grounds, a field where the KKK had flogged their victims. But during two hours of Christmas Eve 1975, Winter Garden was shattered and changed forever.
Amazingly, the case has remained almost unknown [yet it] became nothing less than a reflection on American life and American justice. It touches matters of race and intolerance and judicial ethics. It raises essential questions about how crimes are investigated, how cases are prosecuted and how verdicts are obtained. It illuminates the vast gulf between what is legal and what is just. [viii]
Conclusions Before Evidence
It has been said that if one launches a rocket toward Mars with an error in trajectory as small as the width of a dime, the rocket will miss Mars by over 1,000,000 miles. As Finch reconstructs the case and the evidence, it becomes clear that just such an error occurred at the earliest stages of the investigation. It appears that Zeigler was immediately identified as the prime suspect and any evidence that didnt fit that theory was ignored, discarded or destroyed by investigators.
This mistake is not unique. For example, the same thing happened to Anthony Porter, the man released a few years ago for innocence after 17 years on Illinois death row.
Cases of erroneous conviction have recurring themes. Zeiglers case is a symphony of such themes. The first one was investigator Donald Fryes immediate identification of Zeigler as the prime suspect.
Officer Robert Thompson, one of the first three to the scene, carried Zeigler over his shoulder to the patrol car and rushed him to the hospital. In the patrol car Zeigler said, Im dying.  He was.
In the hospital examining room, Thompson asked what had happened. Zeigler responded that Charlie Mays had shot him, that yes, he thinks he was trying to rob him, and that Zeigler had shot Charlie with his gun. Then he began to babble. 
Dr. Gleason removed from Zeigler a large caliber bullet which had grazed the peritoneum and passed within an inch of the liver. Zeigler seemed alive only by chance. [29-30] It didnt matter.
The Orange County Sheriffs Office had taken over the case. During the night, 29 year-old OCSO investigator Don Frye surveyed the crime scene and decided Zeigler must have done it. [30-33]
[to top] A Christmas Miracle
And then occurred nothing short of a Christmas miracle for a quadruple homicide. In the earliest hours of Christmas Day, two witnesses came forward independently with support for Fryes theory. Edward Williams came forward around midnight claiming that Zeigler had first tried to kill him and had then changed his mind and given him the murder weapon. Edward Williams, who claimed to have heard no shots and seen no bodies, handed the murder weapon to the police. Edward Williams was not seriously investigated as a suspect. [34-38]
Shortly after Edward Williams turned over the murder weapon, Felton Thomas showed up to provide a bizarre tale of events, the point of which was to establish that Zeigler had lured Mays into the store to kill him and make it look like a robbery to cover up Zeiglers murder of his wife and her parents. Felton Thomas claimed that Mays had picked him up to help with a TV and that they then met a white man called Zeigler at the store. Felton Thomas acknowledged that before that night he had never met Zeigler. No matter. It filled in the missing piece of Fryes puzzle. [39-44] Felton Thomas was not seriously investigated as a suspect.
On December 27th, then Assistant State Attorney Lawson Lamar was at the crime scene discussing charges. Two days later, Frye himself signed the arrest warrant and arrested Zeigler in his bed at West Orange Memorial Hospital. 
A few hours later, a man named Nathaniel Brown came forward and said that a white man had planned the crime, that Mays was one of his 3 accomplices and that the men had been paid $1,000 each.
He also said that the men had wiped the guns clean of prints before they left. He said that Zeigler was innocent, the victim of a set-up. The victims were already dead when Zeigler entered the store.  Several weeks later, the FBI reported back that all the guns had been wiped clean of prints. No matter. Frye reported that Browns story was without substance, that Brown was a petty criminal and a liar.  Browns claims that Zeigler was the victim of a set-up were never investigated.
After the six hour preliminary hearing on January 16, 1976, Judge Kaney released Zeigler on a $40,000 bond, considering his familys means, it was an outright release from custody. [59-67] When Lawson Lamar protested, Kaney stood firm. The state didnt present a clear case against Zeigler, Kaney said, They showed me very little hard evidencethey didnt show me enough
to deny bond. 
Not much more hard evidence would be produced at trial. But the judge would be different.
A Turn Toward The Dark Side
When the ownership of the guns used in the crime was verified, they belonged to Frank Smith, a friend of Edward Williams. Smith claimed that he had purchased the guns at the request of Zeigler. Smith had never met Zeigler. Edward Williams corroborated the story. Frye was satisfied. [67-68]
Even as the states case seemed to resist gelling, a vicious campaign of rumors started spreading through West Orange. The primary one was that Zeigler was a closet homosexual and had murdered his wife for discovering it. No substance to this rumor was ever shown. It appears to have originated with law enforcement officers. [69 and 105] But the rumors were very effective in turning public opinion against Zeigler.
The prosecution lined up their own expert, Professor MacDonell, who rubber-stamped all Fryes theorieseven the homosexuality except he disagreed about the timing of the phone call by Zeigler to the police. Frye contended that Zeigler killed everyone, called for help and then, knowing he would be rescued within minutes, shot himself. MacDonell said that was not possible, that based on the blood trails Zeigler was shot before using the phone.
Robert Eagan presented the case to the grand jury on March 25, including unsubstantiated rumors of homosexuality and vicious small town gossip about Zeiglers childhood [157-158] and about the relationship between his wife and his mother. [76-85] The OCSOs crime scene photographs showed Mays lying on the floor with his pants pulled down and his fly unzipped. The State tied the rumors and photographs all together by depicting Zeiglers mother as a cold and ruthlessly controlling woman which explained why Zeigler was gay, explained why his wife and his mother had problems, explained why he killed his wife, and explained why he had pulled down Mayss pants and unzipped Mayss fly before or after killing him.
Later, in depositions, Officer Jimmy Yawn, one of the first officers to arrive at the scene of the crime, testified that Mayss pants were up around his waist in a normal manner. They were NOT pulled down with the fly unzipped. 
Whether Zeigler was gay should have been irrelevant. But the State used such allegations in a hateful and insidious waynot just to provide a motive, but also to explain the heinousness of the crime. By todays standards, the States conduct, in and of itself, would qualify as a hate crime.
In 1982, attorney Bill Duane, whose only knowledge of the case was from the media and his buddies at the OCSO and the State Attorneys Office, said that back in 1976 he had heard the stories: testimony from the grand jury room about what a vicious asshole Zeigler was a [depraved] homosexual as guilty as hell and everybody knew it, even before the trial. All the insiders knew it. Everybody knew that Zeigler got what was coming to him. 
Neutral evidence, such as insurance policies purchased to pay estate taxes if a spouse died, was presented as proof of motive  even though the amounts were small compared to the familys wealth. The nagging question was the obvious question: Why would Zeigler do this? His stature in the community and his familys wealth far outweighed any possible gain. Zeigler had nothing to gain and everything to lose by committing this crime.
It appears that the unsubstantiated rumors of homosexuality filled the void of unanswered questions, rumors that were never proven and never identified to a source other than law enforcement  and a prosecution produced witness who claimed to be a confident of Zeiglers dead wife. (No one who knew Zeigler or his wife had ever heard of any relationship between the two women.)
The rumors worked.  Zeigler was indicted and placed under arrest. 
And Zeigler had a new judge, then-Circuit Judge Maurice Paul. They had met before.
[to top] Placing Events In A Context
It is almost too overwhelming to imagine the Hitchcockian swirl of events that had engulfed Zeigler at this point. Our mental process wants to believe that some unknown fact explains how all this could happen to someone. Surely he must have done something wrong to incur such horror. Could this really happen to someone who is innocent?
Part of the answer is to be found in looking at patterns or themes in cases where people have been wrongfully convicted. For example, as noted above, an investigators hasty conclusion as to who committed a crime can pervert the entire investigation by screening out all the witnesses and evidence that contradicts the pet theory. Paid consultants and informants have shown a tendency to go along with the pet theory as well, even in the face of contrary evidence.
The use of life insurance policies as a motive must also be inherently suspect. For example, in 1968, James Richardson was sentenced to death for murdering seven of his children. The prosecution built its case around the claim that Mr. Richardson, a poor migrant farm worker, had purchased life insurance policies for the children the very evening before their deaths. A subsequent investigation revealed that Mr. Richardson had never, in fact, bought any life insurance for his children. Moreover, the police had not found the claimed poison when they exhaustively searched the shed during their crime scene investigation. Rather, the police had received a tip from a woman named Bessie Reese. It turned out that Bessie Reese had killed the children. Richardson was released after 21 years on Floridas death row.
That is another recurring theme in wrongful death penalty convictions: strangers showing up to testify to uncorroborated facts. The abuse of such testimony is so extensive that two premier American newspapers have launched major investigations into prosecutorial misconduct involving the use and procurement of such testimony.
But taking such factors into account only helps deal with what happened after the Christmas Eve murders. We still grope for an answer to Why the Zeiglers? Why Zeigler?
No one has answered that question definitively. But Phillip Finch has connected some dots to reveal a picture that should make chills run down the spine of everyone who wants to believe in American justice.
First we must look at the time and place where these events occurred. The time was 1975. The place was rural central Florida.
Stetson Kennedy, a Floridian who researched the Klan for more than forty years, has written that several klaverns thrived in West Orange at least into 1960. How long they survived after that is a matter of debate. In almost every other important way, though, the Winter Garden of 75 was the Winter Garden of 55. 
This is also the time period of the infamous Florida case of Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts, sentenced to death after having been convicted (by an all white jury) of killing a gas station attendant. The case was built on confessions obtained through merciless beatings.
Within just a few weeks of their sentencing, the local sheriff learned that another man who had been arrested for another gas station robbery had confessed to the murder for which Mr. Lee and Mr. Pitts had been sentenced to death. The Sheriff responded that he wanted nothing to do with any other confession because “I already got two niggers waiting for the chair in Raiford for those murders.” A polygraph examiner who had heard this other man confess took the matter to the press, and once these facts emerged a new trial was ordered.
During that second trial, however, the jury again convicted Mr. Lee and Mr. Pitts. Ultimately, Floridas governor investigated the case and uncovered the truth. Both Mr. Lee and Mr. Pitts were pardoned on the grounds of innocence.
In the year 2003, such a state of affairs is hard for ma
ny of us to imagine. But that was the landscape upon which the first meeting of Zeigler and Judge Maurice Paul took place. Terry Hadley, the lawyer who would represent Zeigler in the Christmas Eve murder trial, was also involved in the first meeting between Zeigler and Judge Paul.
Finch recounts the events of mid-1975, just months before the Christmas Eve murders, in detail as follows [94-96]:
Earlier that year , Hadley had become well acquainted with Zeigler. Hadley was defending a 54-year-old black man named Andrew James against charges of selling marijuana to an undercover agent of the state Beverage Department. James was a friend of Zeiglers. He was also the only black man in West Orange to hold a full liquor license. Since the incident was alleged to have taken place at his bar in Winter Garden, James was in jeopardy of losing his license and a very profitable business.
James] originally retained [a local lawyer], and pled guilty to the charge. But James apparently had misgivings. Zeigler referred James to Hadley, and Hadley withdrew the plea.
Zeigler remained actively involved with the case as Hadley prepared for trial. He told Hadley that James was getting a raw deal. Floridas liquor licenses were allotted on a strict quota system and usually were available only by private sale. Very rarely, though, the state Beverage Department resold licenses that it had revoked. Zeigler told Hadley that James had been set up for forfeiture because he had refused to sell his license to certain powerful white interests in West Orange.
According to Zeigler, that group included a local businessman whom Zeigler believed to be the operator of a large loan-sharking organization in West Oranges black communities and labor camps. Zeigler said that some elements of the local police in West Orange were connected with the operation, working as collectors and enforcers; he claimed that he had seen policemen assault debtors for having failed to make their payments.
Zeigler also said that the loan sharks were aware of his own interest in their operation. He said that a certain Winter Garden patrolman had threatened his life during a routine traffic stop.
Hadley found none of this difficult to believe. He knew West Orange, and he had heard of the loan sharks .
Zeigler said that the loan sharks coveted James liquor license. Since the group already controlled most of the country stores, which sold beer and wine, Jamess license would mean a virtual monopoly on sales of alcohol in the black areas of Winter Garden and Oakland.
Zeigler said that the same group had attempted to force James out of business in 1974 by enforcing codes against the ramshackle old structure where James owned the tavern known as Browns Bar. Zeigler and his father had persuaded Winter Gardens pastorsin particular Fay De Sha, the influential minister of the First Baptist Churchto agree to a temporary relaxation of zoning laws so that James could rebuild.
Zeigler vouched for Jamess character and helped Hadley to organize a defense based on the theory that James was being framed. As Hadley recalled it in 1991, that defense would have been impossible without Zeigler.
What was in this for Zeigler? Nothing, as far as Hadley could tell. Zeigler seemed genuinely affronted that criminal methods were being used to deprive a man of his livelihood.
Zeigler said he knew that Andrew James was innocent, for he had visited James in the bar many times. Hadley thought this was remarkable: Browns Bar was in a black neighborhood and had a black clientele. It was a place where few whites ever ventured without a compelling reason.
Hadley soon discovered that Zeigler moved through West Oranges black communities with ease and confidence, unlike any other white man Hadley had ever known. He did not seem to be an interloper. At one point Hadley wanted to interview a black ex-convict who was wary of white authority. Andrew James could not persuade the man to speak to Hadley. But Tommy Zeigler did.
Hadley was also impressed by the friendship between James and Zeigler. James respected Zeigler, but did not automatically defer to him. Zeigler did not condescend to James.
Tommy Zeiglers political ideas were reflexively conservative, but Hadley found him open and equal in his personal dealings with black people.
Andrew Jamess case went to trial. Hadley knew that if he was to have a chance of acquittal, he would have to attack the credibility of the beverage agent, a man named Herbert G. Baker.
As Hadley remembered it in 1991, his impeachment of Bakers testimony forced the prosecution to call unscheduled rebuttal witnesses who would testify to Bakers integrity. One of those witnesses was a former attorney for the Beverage Department, who now was a circuit judge and who had signed the original search warrant in Bakers investigation of Andrew James.
For a sitting judge to testify as a character witness was virtually unheard-of. Hadley found himself in a position few trial attorneys ever know, and none would envy: his responsibility to his client was forcing him to cross-examine a judge in whose court he had several active cases.
The judge was Maurice M. Paul, who in less than a year would preside at the murder trial of Tommy Zeigler.
James was found guilty and given probation, but the sentence was not adjudicated; technically, James was not convicted. Later, Zeigler testified at a Beverage Department hearing that found that the evidence against James was insufficient to merit revocation.
The prosecution of James provoked anger in West Oranges black communities. Bakers house was burned, he became the subject of an inquiry by the NAACP, and he left his job. Andrew James kept his license and he probably had Tommy Zeigler to thank for it.
[Footnote to original text: In 1984, Baker testified at a hearing that stemmed from one of Zeiglers appeal issues. He said he believed that Hadley put him (Baker) on trial during those proceedings. I think I was investigated by about every agency in central Florida over it [S]omebody brought the NAACP My house was set on fire once during this time. My kids were threatened in school. My wife wound up having to go to a psychologist over it. Baker also said that he believed that Zeigler had lied during Jamess trial.]
[to top] Where Was The Black Community In Zeiglers Ordeal
Given the stark realties of rural central Florida and the small town realities of the events that unfolded just a few months before the murders at the W.T. Zeigler Furniture Store, one might reasonably ask, Where was the black community during Zeiglers ordeal by trial?
Although Finch doesnt directly address that question, the facts presented paint a picture of two horrible options for Zeiglers friends, acquaintances and customers who were members of the black community. Either:
- the rumors about Zeiglers homosexual liaisons were true, and the very man that had appeared to be their friend had murdered his wife and in-laws and then killed his black friend to cover it up; or
- a member of the black community that had been Zeiglers friend was killed murdering Zeiglers family and trying to murder Zeigler; even worse, one of the black witnesses against Zeigler, Edward Williams, a man who had been especially well treated by Zeigler, was perjuring himself to incriminate and send an innocent man to the chair.
With respect to the community, an especially traumatic aspect of this crime is that it appears to have been designed to alienate the black community from Zeigler just months after he had chosen to alienate himself from the white power structure by standing up for his black friend.
While law enforcement and the prosecution generated rumors of homosexuality, the media beat the drums about the white man who was so ruthless that he murdered his wife for money, murdered h
is in-laws because they were there and then murdered his black friend to cover it up. The black community mobilized in outrage at Zeigler.
No one ever answered the questionwhy would this ruthless man then turn buttery and hand the murder weapon to Edward Williams so Edward Williams could turn him in to the police.
In fact, it appears that no one in the media or on the prosecutions side ever asked any questions inconsistent with Fryes theory of the crime.
The reality was that either Zeigler was the perpetrator or Mays and Edward Williams were the perpetrators. The same evidence that could convict Zeigler could have convicted Edward Williams if Zeigler had died. 
Zeigler had nothing to gain and everything to lose.
Mays, a heavy gambler, had been arrested and convicted on charges of illegal betting and reportedly had bet and lost a large sum of money, cash belonging to the loan sharks. 
Edward Williams was chronically unemployed and in December of 1975 a local bank was preparing to foreclose on a loan he had cosigned for a friend. 
Request For A New Judge
On May 22, 1976 the defense asked Judge Paul to disqualify himself from Zeiglers case. Not only had Paul and Zeigler been on opposite sides of the Andrew James case, but it had been a rancorous, bitter case and Zeigler was closely identified with James. The motion included affidavits claiming that Pauls demeanor in court, his voice and manner showed prejudice against the defense. [163-164] Paul denied the motion. Paul would be Zeiglers judge.
This resulted in an extraordinary situation. During the trial Zeiglers lawyer called Andrew James as a witness, hoping both to dispel the image of Zeigler as a man who contemptuously manipulated his black acquaintances and to establish that Zeigler had made enemies of powerful criminal elements in his hometown.  At one point, Zeiglers lawyer explained to the Court that he wanted to show a motive for revenge against Zeigler.
Judge Paul asked: Is it some of the loan sharks or law enforcement people who are seeking revenge? Is that what you are saying?
Zeiglers lawyer answered yes, that was the theory. 
Evidence At Trial
The physical evidence was a jumble that did little to support the prosecution’s version of events. The validity of much of the evidence came into question.
Listed below are some of the most startling inconsistencies.
- Blood Evidence. This evidence was collected and sent to the FBI labs for typing. Blood subgroup typing is the only way to distinguish blood subgroups. So, for example, type O blood, which is present in 85% of the population, needs to be broken down into subgroups in order to achieve accuracy. At that time, the techniques available could only identify subgroups if the blood was less than two weeks old. The OCSO technicians delayed their tests until long after the crime, thereby allowing the blood to deteriorate beyond accurate subgouping. This evidence could have confirmed or disproved the testimonies of any one of the so-called witnesses had it been examined earlier.
- Fingerprints.The FBI specialist responsible for testing the evidence before the trial could not find any match that positively identified Zeigler as the murderer. She destroyed the fingerprints without first offering them to the defense for analysis. It is a fact of forensic science that even if a fingerprint cannot positively identify a person, it could still be of use in establishing that he or she could not have left the mark – but this option was never open to Zeigler’s defense.
- Planted Evidence. There is a strong suspicion that some of the evidence used to implicate Zeigler was planted in the store. Frye has testified twice that the evidence in question was found on December 27, but Alton Evans, the officer who made the discovery, says he found it on January 2, 1976–long after all the evidence had been collected from the store. In fact the official evidence log and Evans’ report for January 2nd support this statement and contradict Fryes.
This evidence, live and expended .38 Special rounds, three brown grocery bags (one of them apparently bloody), two empty boxes for revolvers, one empty box marked for .38 Special cartridges, and a blue towel, perfectly fit the stories of Felton Thomas and Edward Williams. This evidence had somehow been missed by all the investigators at the crime scene for over a week.
- The Blood on Charlie Mays’ Feet. Mays was found dead with dried blood caked around his shoes and the bottom of his trousers. The blood spatters around Mays’ head showed that he had been killed on the spot, but there were no bloody footprints around his body. This means that the blood covering his lower legs and feet must have been dry when he died. This large quantity of blood would have taken 15 to 20 minutes to dry.
All of this makes it difficult to understand how Frye could have neglected to investigate the possibility that Mays was not an innocent victim of the murders. It is interesting to note that gunshot residue was found on Mays’ hands, suggesting that he had fired shots.
- The Blood on Zeiglers Shirt. The prosecution suppressed a damaging statement made by Robert Thompson, the police officer who carried Zeigler to the hospital on Christmas Eve. He stated that the blood on Zeiglers shirt was dry when he picked him up.
According to the prosecution’s version of events, this blood should have been wet since Zeigler had shot himself only a few minutes previously. Even if we assume that Frye was wrong to believe that Zeigler had inflicted this injury so late on, for that blood to be dry he would need to have been walking around in blood stained clothes for a long timelong enough for Edward Williams or even Felton Thomas and Mays to have seen him. Yet neither Felton Thomas nor Edward Williams ever mentioned Zeigler being soaked in blood, surely the first observation anyone would tell of when reporting a suspected murderer.
- Footprint Evidence. A key issue in the prosecution case was their explanation of the bloody footprints. Frye, and the criminologist he consulted, both asserted that they must have been left by the murderer. Tom Delaney, the FBI specialist who examined the prints, stated that they could not have been left by Zeigler’s shoes.
Delaney testified to this effect in court – a valuable defense witness. Due to a tight schedule he was only available for a very short period of time and had to leave as soon as he had vacated the witness stand. Zeiglers defense attorneys allowed him to leave because the prosecution had not disclosed tests made by their witness to rebut the FBI testimony. Otherwise they would have kept Delaney for rebuttal of the prosecutions tests.
Once Delaney left and was no longer available to testify, the prosecution surprised the defense with introduction of undisclosed tests.
One of the very next witnesses the prosecution called was Frye’s consultant criminologist, Herbert MacDonell who proceeded to rebut all that had been stated by Tom Delaney, who was no longer available to defend his findings.
Zeigler’s defense attorneys were, not surprisingly, insufficiently knowledgeable of this branch of forensic science to mount a counter-defense without the FBI expert. Zeiglers attorneys objected to this unfair tactic but, true to form, Judge Paul ruled for the prosecution.
[to top] Problems With Testimony
The States case was primarily based on testimony. The testimony produced by the State at Zeiglers trial was full of inherent inconsistenciessome is inconsistent with testimony actually offered by the State and some is inconsistent with testimony that the State suppressed and hid from the defense until after the trial. Some of the most
glaring problems are listed below:
- The Self Inflicted Injury. Frye based his belief that Zeigler had shot himself on the fact that Zeigler had served in the Medical Corps in the army (though not as a surgeon) and would, he believed, know where he could shoot without risking his life. However, Dr. Gleason, the surgeon who operated on him after the shooting, testified that nobody could shoot themselves in that part of the abdomen without serious risk to life.
- Number Of Cars. The State claimed that there were not more than two cars in front of the store prior to 9:00 p.m. According to two eyewitnesses, whose identity and testimony the State suppressed, there were four cars and a black man in front of the store when the shots were fired.
- Mays Was Picking Up A TV. The State claimed that Zeigler lured Mays to the store by promising to give him a TV. [TT at 1148]. In fact, Mays parked his van in a location hidden from the street and from which it was impossible to pick up a TV. Mays son told his employer that Mays left home carrying a gun and saying there would be plenty of money for Christmas. [When asked to give an affidavit under oath, Mays son refuted the statement]. Cash and receipts from the store were found in Mays pocket. [TT at 799-800] There was a high quantity of gunshot residue on Mays hands. [TT at 2177].
- Route Taken By Mays And Felton Thomas To The Store. Felton Thomas testified as to the route he and Mays took going to the Zeigler furniture store on Christmas Eve night. [TT at 1754-1759]. The route describe by Felton Thomas would have required the vehicle to go over a 3 foot high concrete wall. [TT at 613-614, 1177-1179]
- The White Man. Felton Thomas said a white man drove up in a car that looked like a Cadillac. [TT at 1151]. Christmas Eve after-noon, Zeigler had switched cars with Curtis Dunaway so Dunaway could use Zeiglers Toronado for a long trip.  Zeiglers Toronado did resemble a Cadillac. [TT at 147-148] But Christmas Eve night, Zeigler was driving the dark Oldsmobile that belonged to Dunaway.
Felton Thomas said that the white man who met him and Mays at the store told Mays that the owner of the store was coming from Apopka with the keys. [TT at 1182]. He also testified that the same white man broke a window in order to get into the Zeigler furniture store. [40-41]
Mays knew Zeigler, who was from Winter Garden, was the owner of the store and had the keys for it. The white man who met Mays and Felton Thomas at the Zeigler furniture store could not have been Zeigler.
- Edward Williams Clothes. Edward Williams said he put the gun that Zeigler gave him (the gun which killed Zeiglers in-laws Perry and Virginia Edwards) into his pocket. [TT at 1252] In fact, there was no evidence of gun residue on the pants Edwards Williams claims to have been wearing the night of the murders. When Edward Williams presented himself and the murder weapon to the OCSO several hours after the murders, his shoes were brand new and still had a price tag on the sole. [TT at 2584] The shoes he was wearing when he presented himself and the gun to the OCSO are inconsistent with having been worn during the activities Edward Williams testified he engaged in that night. The clean clothes and new shoes are consistent with Edward Williams having to dispose of bloody clothes and bloody shoes.
- Zeigler Fired All The Shots. The State contended that Zeigler fired all 28 shots with 7 guns. In fact, there was no gunshot residue on Zeiglers pants. [TT at 1636] It also seems highly unlikely that Zeigler could have fired 28 shots from 7 guns in different parts of the store in two firecracker like bursts. The Roaches, witnesses who heard the shooting, stated they heard rapid firing at different loudness levels, suggesting more than one person firing shots. They gave an affidavit in 1979, claiming Ken Roach had called the OCSO after Zeiglers indictment, had given this information to a woman there and that she told him his statement wasnt needed and refused to give him defense counsels name. 
- The Shooting Was Between 7:00-8:00 p.m. Four eyewitnesses, testimony the State suppressed and hid from the defense until long after the trial, said the firing was done after 9:00 p.m. and after the police arrived.
- No One Was Inside The Store Except The Victims And Zeigler. A tooth found lying in the store after the murders belonged to none of the victims or to Zeigler. Felton Thomas claimed that he never entered the store.
Also, bloody footprints near the body of Eunice Zeigler did not belong to any of the victims or to Zeigler. [TT at 925-928] And, there were fingerprints of unknown people in the store. [2060-65]
And there was an expended cartridge case found in the store but not associated with any gun found in the store. [TT at 1616]
- Problems Corroborating Felton Thomass Testimony. Felton Thomas claimed that on the night of the murder he told Cleo Anderson and Kate Mae Seabrook what had happened in the store. [TT at 1166] Anderson and Seabrook both denied that Felton Thomas told them anything about what had happened in the store. [TT at 1955-56, 1964-65]
[to top] A Problematic Jury
The trial, which was moved to Jacksonville because of publicity in Orange County, began on June 8, 1976.
The jury began deliberations at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 30th. The jury consisted of six blacks and six whites, three men and nine women.
The jury deliberations were unusually tumultuous and riddled with transgressions. After an initial vote in which the jurors split evenly, with six voting in favor of conviction and six voting in favor of acquittal, the jury deliberated for two and one-half days. On the 3rd day of deliberations, one juror who continued to believe in [Zeiglers] innocence, Irma Brickel, appears to have suffered a nervous breakdown leading to several fainting spells. The trial judge then telephoned Ms. Brickels personal physician and persuaded him to authorize a prescription of Valium for her over the telephone .Shortly after taking the medication, at 5:00 p.m. on July 2, 1976 Ms. Brickel abandoned her position and the jury voted to convict . [SAP at 8-9]
Subsequent to the case, another juror, Ms. Dollinger, disclosed that: [SAP at 85]
- The atmosphere during the jury deliberations was one of open hostility. In addition, there was a great amount of intimidation I suppose it could even have come to actual violence. It was a very frightening situation.
- Many times when juror Brickel would try to talk, juror Roberts would come up behind her and click one of the pistols behind her head. (This is a reference to one of the many guns that were in evidence which, apparently, were in the jury room).
Subsequently, Ms. Brickel related that: [SAP at 86]
- Immediately after the foreman was elected, he made a statement to the effect that he had made up his mind 2 weeks before.
- When she suggested getting a mannequin to examine the bloodstains on Eunice Zeiglers clothing she was told that since she was approximately the same size she could put them on and get a feel for the situation; and that this statement was made in an extremely abusive manner.
- She had requested help from the Court and could not understand why nothing was done.
- Her illness during the jury deliberations was a direct result of the pressure she was being put under to change her vote.
- That when she was interviewed by the Judge she felt that he was extremely angry with her for causing trouble and did not really want her to talk.
The Atlanta Constitution reported that Lee Williams, one of the jurors and now a lawyer, said there were problems during the jurys deliberations and that there were some things that should not have happened in the jury ro
om. [SAP at 88]
In fact, even though the jurors have been interviewed by the press concerning their deliberations in this case and news stories have appeared in various publications, including a front-page series in the Atlanta Constitution, Zeiglers attorneys have been and still are prohibited from talking to the jurors by Judge Pauls injunctionwhich the Courts have continued in effect. [SAP at 89]
After the sentencing hearing on July 16, the jury deliberated for only 25 minutes before returning with a verdict for a life sentence. Under the circumstances, the extraordinary speed of the jury decision for life imprisonment can only be explained as the result of a compromise over lingering doubts about Zeiglers innocence. [SAP at 10]
Judge Paul, who had refused to disqualify himself, immediately rejected the jurys decision and sentenced Zeigler to death. [SAP at 10]
The Facts Get Worse: The Orange Grove
Felton Thomas claimed that, immediately before the murders, the white man (who he alleged was Zeigler) drove him and Mays out Route 50 to an orange grove and had them fire three guns into the ground. He claimed that the white man himself never touched the guns.
Early in January, Felton Thomas showed Frye the remote orange grove where he claimed Zeigler had driven him and Mays to shoot the revolvers. The OCSO brought in a crew of trusties from the Orange County jail and began to dig the earth for bullets.
On January 12, after two days of sifting dirt and sand, a deputy, James Lee Bryan, reported that they had recovered a .38 slug. The FBI could not match the slug to any of the guns although it did have the general rifling characteristics of a Securities .38, one of the murder weapons.  Even so, the Florida Supreme Court sustained the use of the grove bullet at trial. 
In 1988, the Christmas Eve murders were the subject of a syndicated TV documentary. The show prompted John Bulled to come forward. Bulled was one of the prison trusties on the work crew that supposedly dug up the grove bullet.
According to Bulled, crews searched the grove for two days and found nothing. On the afternoon of the second day, Bulled said, a sheriffs deputy told the crew supervisor, Well just have to produce one anyway.
Bulled said he believed that the evidence had been fabricated, because inmates were told to say that they had found a slug, when actually they had found none. [273-274]
[to top] The Facts Get Even Worse: The Secret Meeting
In 1981, former OCSO officer Leigh McEachern claimed that he was present at a pretrial conference at which Judge Paul discussed the evidence in Zeiglers case with State Attorney Robert Eagan, Inspector Frye and a third party.
McEachern had been the chief deputy to Sheriff Colman in 1976. He made this charge from a prison camp in northern Florida where he was serving a sentence after being convicted of embezzling from his departments investigative funds.
According to McEachern, the illegal meeting took place in a conference room of the offices of the state attorney. He said that Eagan outlined for Paul the major points in the States case, including the expected testimony of the States expert Professor MacDonell.
McEachern claimed that as the meeting broke up, Judge Paul told Eagan, Bob, get me one first-degree [conviction] and Ill fry the son of a bitch. McEachern said that he later mentioned the meeting to Colman, but did nothing else. He said that he decided to come forward after the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Zeiglers conviction and sentence.
Such a conference would have been completely improper. Eagan, Frye and Judge all denied that the meeting had taken place. There was a hearing on this in August 1984. Zeiglers attorneys tried to establish a judicial conspiracy against him based on ill will from the Andrew James matter. Circuit Judge James Stroker ruled that the Zeiglers claim was without substance, although he admitted that he could find no obvious motive for McEachern to have lied.
In America (including Florida), people are regularly convicted and sentenced to prison based on uncorroborated testimony of jailhouse witnesses who are promised leniency, sentence reductions or money for their testimony.
Here, the testimony of a man in prison who had nothing to gain from his testimonyin fact, he could only expect retribution from the criminal justice system for testifying against the credibility of a Circuit Judge and a State Prosecuting Attorneywas discounted as without substance.
The Facts Grow Yet Worse: The Buried Tape
In April of 1987, Zeiglers lawyers made a Florida Public Records Act request for the files of the State Attorney in Orlando. In the files they discovered a tape-recorded telephone interview of John Jellison. The interview had been conducted on April 30, 1976 by a state investigator named Jack Bachman. The tape had been hidden by the State Attorneys Office which failed to disclose anything about it before trial or even in answering requests for disclosure in conjunction with Zeiglers appeals. [SAP at 18]
John Jellison, his parents and his sister were staying at a motel next to and behind the Zeigler furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975 and witnessed some of the happenings outside the store. Mr. Jellison told the investigator that at about 9:00 p.m. he and the rest of his family had seen a police car at the back of the store, a police officer aiming his gun toward the store over the top of the car, and had then heard shots as they were watching, and that other police cars had arrived on the scene thereafter.
The States investigator made plain his disappointment with Jellisons recollection: [A]s long as you heard the gunshots after, you know, you saw the police car, that wouldnt help us a bit.
When Jellison asked if Bachman wanted to interview his mother, Bachman replied: Not unless, you know, you all get together and decide you heard those gunshots before you saw the police car. In that case, wed give you a free trip back to Florida.
The Florida Courts On The Jellison Tape
In the next petition filed with the State Court of Appeal, Zeiglers attorneys raised the issue of the Jellison tape and the States having hidden it from the trial court, from the defense and from discovery, during trial and all the appeals.
The Court of Appeal held that the issue should have been raised before January 1, 1987, the running of the time period for Zeiglers state claims for relief. Zeiglers lawyers pointed out that the State had hid the tape until April of 1987. The Court denied relief anyway and the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the denial. [SAP at 18] Zeiglers Story 
From the very beginning, Zeigler has always held to the same facts.
He entered the store in the dark because the lights wouldnt come on.
He was assaulted at the back of the showroom.
He had struggled with at least two assailants, but in the darkness, and having lost his glasses at the beginning of the fight, he couldnt identify them.
His memory of the fight was hazy. He had perhaps fired the automatic .22 that he carried with him; he could remember ejecting a jammed cartridge from the little pistol.
After he was thrown into the hallway, he managed to pull the Colt revolver from the drawer there.
He might have fired it, maybe several times, but he didnt know whether he had hit anyone.
After he was shot, and passed out, he woke up on the floor and crawled around in the darkness trying to find his glasses. Eventually, he got his spare pair from the desk in his office.
He remembered Thompson bringing him to the hospital.
Above all, except for having fired in self-defense, he knew nothing of the four deaths in the store.
[to top] Supplements from Vernon David
1. When Nathaniel Brown came to us he additionally reported that there was a white man “holed up” in Oakland, the City adjoining Winter Garden, and that he had a bullet wound in his shoulder. Zeigler testified that he got off one shot from the .22 cal. automatic before it jammed. We searched every square inch of that building and could not find the slug. We assume that the State did so as well. The expended shell casing for the .22 was found just where it should have been if Zeigler correctly related the events. The slug walked out the door in someone.
How could Nathaniel Brown know about it before any information was in the news unless he was accurate in his story?
2. Regarding Zeigler’s story, I would like to add that his version was essentially verified by the “truth serum” test conducted by a psychiatrist and a polygraph examination conducted by the PhD examiner for the Michigan State Police.
3. Phillip Finch recently said: “Actually I think the whole complicated case can be condensed as follows: Police and prosecutors had to choose between a man whose truck was found at the murder scene, who was in the possession of the principal murder weapon and whose friend admitted to buying the others, and whose movements before and after the crime are unverifiable and highly suspect, and another who ended up with a .38 caliber bullet wound in the abdomen — and they chose to make the first their prime witness for the prosecution.”
Zeiglers Case Today — 2004
As of this writing, Zeigler is sitting on Floridas death row where he has been for 28 years.
Federal: The Federal District Court denied all counts for appeal based on procedural default (no review of the merits–just that it’s been too long). Then the court refused to issue a certificate of appealability. This is a new trend in death penalty cases since enactment of The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The request for a certificate of appealability was then lodged with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. They granted argument on several grounds for appeal. That argument took place in January 2003; then, in September of 2003, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rubberstamped the Federal District Court, applying procedural default to prevent the accumulated evidence of innocence from being heard by a court.
The 11th Circuit also held that Zeigler had not met the burden of showing that the evidence hidden by the state would have made a difference in the jury verdict. This is especially ironic given the following development.
On February 26, 2003, Ms. Peggy A. Dollinger, a juror in the original trial of William Thomas Zeigler, has signed a sworn affidavit stating that if the hidden evidence had come to light during the trial, she would have voted not guilty.
Unfortunately, the attorneys for Zeigler are still barred by from any contact with the original jurors because of the Court order of Judge Maurice Paul. Consequently, no one seems to be able to introduce the affidavit in court. And incredible decisions like that of the 11th Circuit, claiming that no showing has been made that the evidence hidden by the state could have changed the outcome of the trial, are being handed down almost a year after this affidavit has been signed.
The U.S. Supreme Court denied Cert October 4, 2004.
Judge Maurice Paul is now a U.S. Federal Judge (District) on the Senior Bench in Florida. He was on special assignment to the 11th Circuit when the appeal of Zeiglers case was denied.
Based upon recent advances in DNA technology, it is now possible to analyze the blood that was used to convict Zeigler and determine subgroupings, which could scientifically determine whether he is innocent. For over three years, the current State Attorney for Orange County, Lawson Lamar, has fought against DNA analysis of the blood samples used to convict Zeigler. [SAP at 65-78]
Finally, in August of 2001, an Orlando judge ordered DNA testing for purposes of preparing a clemency petition. The results came back in June of 2002.
[to top] The DNA Test Results
The results of DNA testing on the bloodstains on the clothes of Zeigler and Charlie Mays confirm Zeiglers account of events and contravene the states theory. The blood on Mays clothes is the blood of Perry Edwards and Charlie Mays indicating that Mays was a perpetrator and involved in killing Perry Edwards. The blood on Zeiglers shirt is his own and that of Charlie Mays. There is no blood from Perry Edwards on Zeiglers shirt. That confirms that Zeigler was not involved in killing Perry Edwards and did have a fight with Charlie Mays.
The States case against Mr. Zeigler is premised on the contention that Charlie Mays is an innocent victim. The fact that the DNA test results show Perry Edwards blood on Charlie Mays fatally decimates the States entire line of reasoning and its case. The States blood-splatter expert, Herbert Leon MacDonell, testified at trial that the way the blood swipes on the floor of the crime scene are overlaid by the blood splatters from Charlie Mayss death conclusively establishes that Perry Edwards was killed at least fifteen to thirty minutes before Charlie Mays died. [TT at 992].
This means that in order for Charlie Mays to have Perry Edwards blood on him, Mr. Mays had to be in the store during the murder of Perry Edwards and, most likely, of Eunice Zeigler and Virginia Edwards. This DNA established fact unhinges the States whole case against Mr. Zeigler. The DNA test results establish that Charlie Mays is not an innocent victim; he is a probable perpetrator. That is exactly what Mr. Zeigler has been claiming for over 27 years. The DNA test results support Mr. Zeiglers innocence and decimate the States basis for his conviction.
The States case against Mr. Zeigler is also based on the contention that Felton Thomas, one of the States two so-called eyewitnesses, is an innocent bystander who accompanied Charlie Mays, an unsuspecting victim, to the Zeigler store. The DNA test results establish that Felton Thomas is lying. Charlie Mays was not an innocent victim and he was in the store when Perry Edwards was murdered. That means Felton Thomas either joined Charlie Mays before that murderand therefore was present for itor was picked up after that murder by a Charlie Mays who had Perry Edwards blood all over his pants. There are no other options. That makes Felton Thomas a probable co-perpetrator and changes the nature of all his reported actions.
The case against Mr. Zeigler is also based on the contention that Edward Williams, the States other so-called eyewitnesses, is an innocent bystander who was lured to the crime scene by Mr. Zeigler so Mr. Zeigler could hand him the gun that had been used to kill Perry Edwards. The DNA test results establish that Edward Williams is lying. The blood of Perry Edwards is on Charlie Mays, not on Mr. Zeigler. That means Mr. Zeigler didnt have the gun to give to Edward Williams. Charlie Mays, not Mr. Zeigler, is the probable murderer of Perry Edwards; and Charlie Mays probably had the gun that killed Perry Edwards. But Edward Williams is the one who ended up with possession of that gun and gave it to police later in the night. How did Edward Williams get that gun from Charlie Mays? If Edward Williams wasnt at the furniture store when Perry Edwards was murdered, how did Edward Williams get possession of the gun that killed Perry Edwards?
The Time Has Come To Grant Either A New Trial Or A Full Pardon To William Tommy Zeigler
28 Years On Floridas Death Row For A Crime He Did Not Commit Is Long Enough! Zeigler Must Be Granted Either A New Trial Or Governor Bush And The Florida Cabinet Must Grant William Tommy Zeigler A Full Pardon: The First Step Is A Full Hearing Of All The EvidenceIncluding All The Evidence That No Jury Has ever Heard.
William Tommy Zeigler, Jr.the white man who stood up for a black man who was being framed by other white men in the deep south of rural central Florida in 1975, a Good Samaritan sitting on Floridas death rowwill die in Floridas execution chamber.
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609
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