A jury in southwest Florida recommended the death penalty for a man convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl and her babysitter more than 30 years ago. The recommendation was made following a trial in which Josef Zieler yelled at the jury and made obscene gestures while on the witness stand.
A Lee County jury voted 10 to 2 in favor of Zieler’s death penalty Wednesday night after about five hours of deliberation, according to court records. The same panel last week found Zieler, 60, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.
A judge will make the final decision after the June 26 hearing on whether Mr. Zieler will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Florida law previously required a unanimous jury recommendation to impose the death penalty on a convicted murderer, but a new law signed last month by Florida’s governor states: Ron DeSantis Only an 8 to 4 yes vote is required to approve the execution.
Zieler was jailed in 2016 on unrelated assault charges after DNA matched the unsolved murders of Robin Cornell, 11, and Lisa Story, 32, authorities said.
Authorities said the girl and woman were found in a Cape Coral apartment in May 1990. Robin’s mother was out for the night, but when she returned the next morning she found her body suffocated. Investigators said the two victims were sexually assaulted.
Cape Coral is about 160 miles south of Tampa.
CBS affiliate WINK-TV reported. Zieler stunned the court by claiming he had slept with Cornell’s mother months before the murder.
“I thought the only way my DNA got there was because I slept with Jean Cornell,” he said. Then he called Cornell a pig. “She calls me a rapist and a murderer, and I call her a pig because she doesn’t wash her sheets.”
WINK TV too report Zieler allegedly yelled at the jurors on the witness stand and made vulgar gestures.
“I mean, everybody’s talking about fingers,” said attorney Lee Hollander. “His actions in the stands were useless. If you get stuck in a hole, stop digging. That’s what I was saying there.”
“I’m back behind the defense and he’s sitting in the witness box. It was like sitting and watching a train wreck,” Hollander continued.
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