DNA evidence could exonerate man on death row for 40 years, defense attorneys say

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Tommy Zeigler was sentenced to die in 1976 after he was convicted in the shooting deaths of his wife, her parents and another man on Christmas Eve, 1975.

In a hearing Thursday, his attorneys argued that DNA evidence from the killings could exonerate Zeigler and should be tested again.

The evidence was last tested 15 years ago, and a DNA expert testified Thursday that today’s testing methods could find evidence that would have been missed.

Zeigler, 70, maintains his innocence, despite the murder convictions.

His attorneys argued that the killings of his wife, her parents and a customer Zeigler’s furniture store happened in two separate incidents that happened as much as two hours apart.

They want to retest blood evidence on a shirt Zeigler was wearing.

If blood from only one of the murders is present on the shirt, Zeigler couldn’t have been the killer, attorneys argued.

Prosecutors said the lack of blood on Zeigler’s shirt would not prove anything, because he could have changed it between murders.

They also argued that Zeigler was wearing rubber gloves and a raincoat during the murders, which would affect the presence of blood evidence.

The man’s attorneys also questioned the argument that the wealthy Zeigler committed the murders to collect a modest insurance policy.

Prosecutors countered, saying even if Zeigler’s attorneys could prove he didn’t kill his father-in-law, the murder the defense largely focused on during the hearing, it wouldn’t make a difference.

That murder was not the one of the two charges that put him on death row, they said.

While the murders happened in Orange County, Zeigler was tried and convicted in Duval County.

The judge did not make a decision on retesting the DNA evidence during Thursday’s hearing.