It is a frightening thought. The rush to judgment that sent Tommy Zeigler to death row may have kept the real killer on the street.
“They got a conviction and here I am stuck,” Tommy Zeigler said. “I didn’t do it. Look at the evidence.”
Private investigator Lynn Marie Carty looked at the evidence. Then she uncovered more evidence and put it online for the world to see.
“It’s ridiculous. This is like ridiculous to me at this point,” Carty said. “The prosecution hid so many key elements from the defense that the jury was not able to hear.”
The prosecution made sure jurors never heard testimony that could have created reasonable doubt.
Today, we know so much more. Claims of a biased judge, unethical conduct and jury manipulation.
The irregularities in the case are mind-blowing. It was Christmas Eve, 1975 at Zeigler’s Furniture store in Winter Garden, Florida. Tommy Zeigler calls for help because he had been shot. Four others, including his wife were murdered.
Investigators zeroed in on Tommy, never bothering to look for anyone else. Zeigler is now 73 years old.
“And I feel every day of it,” said Zeigler.
He has spent 42 years on death row agonizing over how he got here. He was a 29-year-old successful businessman with no history of violence before his arrest.
Zeigler’s attorneys believe he was railroaded by cops, prosecutors, and a judge who should have recused himself. There is no way a jury looking at all the facts today would find him guilty.
Private Investigator Carty has spent her own money and eight years of her life working pro bono on Zeigler’s behalf and she has no plans to give up on him now.
“How could I stop,” said Carty. “The guy is innocent and I’m positive.”
So far, Tommy has failed to convince the state to set him free.
Former State Attorney, Jeff Ashton who is now a circuit court judge has fought to keep Zeigler on death row, claiming he killed for insurance money. It is another fact that has been challenged by Zeigler and his attorneys. None of it seems to matter.
Even with new evidence and DNA testing that disproves what prosecutors presented at trial, the state still wants Tommy Zeigler to die.
“He will die on death row one way or the other,” said Ashton. “Whether that is by natural causes or by the hands of the state you know, I don’t know.”
Florida has wrongfully convicted and exonerated 27 death row inmates, more than any other state.
Many believe Tommy Zeigler should be the 28th.
“I can’t stop thinking about this guy,” said Carty. “If he dies in there it is going to be a tragedy to the state of Florida and to the Justice system.”
Three-hundred-forty-three men remain on death row in Florida. Zeigler has been there longer than all but one of them. He is also the second oldest.
A New York Law Firm, convinced of his innocence took up his case several years ago and has spent millions trying to save his life.
If Zeigler dies in prison without clearing his name, he wishes they would have just killed him on day one.
Watch Keith’s 2013 special, “Death On Hold.”