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Who is Tommy Zeigler, Man Who’s Challenging Conviction for Murder of Wife, In-Laws and Customer at His Furniture Store?
“How can you beat somebody to death and not get their blood on you?,” Tommy Zeigler said in his defense during a 2015 interview.
The fate of an elderly Florida death row inmate, who's fighting a quadruple murder conviction, continues to hang in the balance months after prosecutors announced new testing of DNA evidence in the decades-old case.
Tommy Zeigler, the Florida furniture store owner accused of murdering his wife, in-laws and another man on Christmas Eve in 1975, has been awaiting the results of renewed fingerprint testing that could possibly exonerate him in the killings since prosecutors announced the re-examination of forensic evidence in March.
But for Zeigler, who has long-insisted he’s innocent, his future remains uncertain, particularly following last month’s suspension of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell, who was leading the renewed probe into his case.
Who is Tommy Zeigler?
On December 24, 1975, Zeigler was arrested in the fatal shootings of his wife, Eunice Zeigler, her parents, Virginia and Perry Edwards, and a fourth man, Charles Mays Jr. The Christmas Eve shootings occurred at Zeigler’s furniture store in Winter Garden, Florida, part of the Orlando metro area. Several guns were used and the men were also beaten. Since the outset of his case, Zeigler has claimed he was the victim of a botched robbery. Zeigler suffered a bullet wound to his abdomen, which prosecutors contended was a self-inflicted wound in an attempt to divert law enforcement scrutiny away from him.
Zeigler, however, has insisted that Mays, along with two other men, Edward Williams and Felton Thomas, committed the murders while allegedly robbing his store.
"It was dark in there, and like I said, I was being bounced around like a ping pong ball, off the walls and everything,” Zeigler told Orlando NBC affiliate WESH in 2015. “And I was shot!"
Zeigler was convicted in July 1976. However, for decades, he’s continued to deny taking part in the killings.
"I did not kill my wife,” he told WESH. “I did not kill Mr. and Mrs. Edwards. I did not kill Mr. Mays."
Zeigler added, contending that there wasn't any blood found on his clothes: "It was a bloody mess. How can you beat somebody to death and not get their blood on you?”
What happened to Zeigler’s Wife and In-Laws?
Eunice Zeigler and her parents, Virginia Edwards and Perry Edwards, all died in the furniture store shootings that Eunice's husband was convicted of. Perry, a minister from Georgia, died fighting off his assailant in the furniture store, however, the man’s fingernails weren't until recently ordered to be forensically tested. At the time of her death, Virginia worked as a teacher at R.B. Wright School in Moultrie, Georgia, according to her obituary. Eunice is buried alongside her parents at Sardis Primitive Baptist Church Cemetery in Berlin, Georgia.
Where does Tommy Zeigler’s case stand now?
For years, Zeigler and his lawyers have sparred with state prosecutors over the re-examination of DNA evidence collected from the scene of the shooting. Zeigler’s legal team first sought early DNA testing in 1994, according to the Tampa Bay Times. In 2001, the testing was given the green light. Forensic testing of four small patches of Zeigler’s plaid trousers ultimately revealed no traces of his wife or in-laws' blood. A judge and Florida prosecutors in 2003, however, refused to sign onto expanded forensic testing of Zeigler’s clothes, as well as touch DNA tests. Prosecutors pointed to the witness testimony of Zeigler’s handyman, who claimed the furniture store owner also tried shooting him.
Last year, a Florida judge approved the DNA testing of decades-old, possibly exculpatory evidence in the case, which could potentially exonerate Zeigler. “This is a victory for Tommy,” said David Michaeli, one of Zeigler’s lawyers, the Tampa Bay Times reported at the time.
The latest news in the case came in March when Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell ordered decades-old fingerprint evidence to be tested.
The move marked the first time in nearly half a century that the state sought to re-examine evidence in the infamous case, Orlando news outlet WKMG-TV reported.
Last month, Worrell, a Democrat, was suspended by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over grievances related to low incarceration rates stemming from her prosecutorial practices, Daytona Beach television station WESH reported. Worrell, who has launched a lawsuit in Florida’s State Supreme Court to fight the governor’s executive order, called the move “unconstitutional.”
It’s unclear how Worrell’s suspension will affect the renewed probe into Zeigler’s case.
How old is Tommy Zeigler and where is he now?
Zeigler is currently 78, according to online state jail records reviewed by Oxgyen.com. The elderly former furniture store owner is one of 293 inmates currently on Florida’s death row. He made headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic after he suffered a bout with food poisoning from eating chili, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Zeigler is currently being housed at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Florida.