Prosecutor agrees to new DNA testing in 1975 murder-for-insurance conviction

A Florida man convicted of murdering his wife and three others believes the testing will show his innocence

Prosecutor agrees to new DNA testing in 1975 murder-for-insurance conviction

Insurance News

By Ryan Smith

A Florida prosecutor has agreed to allow DNA testing on evidence that helped convict a man for a 1975 murder-for-insurance scheme.

Monique H. Worrell, state attorney for the Orlando area, agreed to allow testing on evidence that helped convict Tommy Zeigler in the murder of his wife, in-laws and an acquaintance, according to an Associated Press report. The four were murdered on Christmas Eve in 1975 at the family’s furniture store. Zeigler is currently on Florida’s death row.

Previous prosecutors alleged that Zeigler gunned them down and staged the killings as a robbery to collect on his wife’s insurance policy, the AP reported. However, Zeigler and his supporters believe the DNA testing will show he is innocent of the crime.

Worrell’s office recently agreed to give all evidence in the case to Zeigler’s attorneys for testing. The agreement must go before a judge but is expected to be approved.

Zeigler’s attorney wants to test his clothing to see if it has the victim’s blood on it, as well as fingernail clippings from his father-in-law, who fought his murderer before being shot, the AP reported. A 2001 test failed to detect any DNA from the victims on four small patches of Zeigler’s clothes, but prosecutors at the time blocked a full test, insisting that other evidence tied him to the murders.

“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 Tampa Bay Times.

Worrell reviewed the case when she headed up the office’s conviction integrity unit. She concluded that Zeigler had not received a fair trial, the AP reported.

“Can the state of Florida legally decline to support additional DNA testing? Absolutely,” she wrote in a 2019 memo to her predecessor. “Can the state of Florida morally justify a decline to support additional testing? Absolutely not.”

Her predecessor as state attorney rejected her recommendation at the time.

The murders happened at W.T. Zeigler Furniture in Winter Garden. In his 1976 trial, prosecutors alleged that Zeigler lured his wife, Eunice, to the store to kill her, and that her parents, Perry and Virginia Edwards, were killed when they got in the way. A fruit picker Zeigler knew named Charlie Mays was also shot and killed, the AP reported.

Prosecutors alleged that Zeigler then shot himself in the stomach to make it appear that he was also a victim. They said he faked the robbery in order to collect on a $500,000 life insurance policy he had taken out on his wife only a few months before.

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