ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – More than 45 years waiting for execution William “Tommy” Zeigler will be granted the DNA evidence his attorneys have sought for years that they say could clear his name.
Zeigler, now 75, was convicted of killing his wife, in-laws and a fourth person at the W.T. Zeigler Furniture store in Winter Garden owned by his family on Christmas Eve 1975. Previous prosecutors have contended Zeigler staged the massacre as a robbery to collect his wife’s $50,000 life insurance policy.
For the last two decades, the death row inmate has begged the courts for DNA testing on physical evidence that he says would prove his innocence. In particular, Zeigler’s attorney wants to test his clothing to see if it has the victims’ blood on it and the fingernail clippings of his father-in-law, who fought his killer before being shot.
This week, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell agreed to release the evidence Zeigler seeks. His attorneys have agreed to pay for the testing that wasn’t available when he was convicted.
The Tampa Bay Times was the first to report the state attorney’s agreement to grant the request. The news outlet has been reporting on Florida’s repeated refusals to grant modernized DNA testing for death row inmates, including Zeigler.
“I am hoping and praying that the test results come back with enough evidence to force the court to grant me a new trial!” Zeigler wrote in a Thursday email to the Times.
The evidence is stored in Orlando in a humidity-controlled vault, reports The Associated Press.
After his second request for the evidence in 2001, Zeigler obtained limited tests, which appeared to support his story that he was a victim of a robbery at his furniture store.
But until now he has been denied more advanced testing of the blood-stained clothes, fingernail scrapings and guns. Worrell’s predecessor Aramis Ayala also previously denied the request. The new Ninth Judicial State Attorney took office in January.
Worrell reviewed the case when she lead the office’s conviction integrity unit and concluded Zeigler had not received a fair trial.
“Can the state of Florida legally decline to support additional DNA testing? Absolutely,” Worrell wrote in a 2019 memo to her predecessor. “Can the state of Florida morally justify a decline to support additional testing? Absolutely not.”
Ayala rejected her recommendation, but now the final decision was hers.
A judge must still approve the DNA testing before it moves forward.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.