Racism Alleged in Denial of DNA Testing For Tommy Zeigler
Contact: Ray McEachern, 813-294-6772
Orlando – Ninth Circuit Court Judge Reginald Whitehead, a black man, has finally denied a petition for DNA testing for white death row inmate, Tommy Zeigler, two and a half years after the petition was filed by Zeigler’s pro bono attorneys. Some people believe that Whitehead was assigned the Zeigler case in 2004 because he is black. A white judge had ordered DNA testing in 2001 that proved Zeigler was innocent of the murders of four people in his furniture store in Winter Garden in 1975. According to citizen advocate, Ray McEachern, the likely reason for assigning the black judge was that Whitehead would be less likely to rule in Zeigler’s favor because it would mean that a black man had been one of the killers as Zeigler has always claimed.
At Zeigler’s trial in June 1976, prosecutor, Robert Eagan, falsely claimed that blood on Tommy Zeigler’s shirt came from his father-in-law, Perry Edwards, who was one of the victims along with Zeigler’s wife and mother-in-law and a black man named Charlie Mays. Zeigler was also shot in the stomach but survived the wound which he said happened during a fight with Mays and others. When the DNA on Zeigler’s clothes proved to be from Charlie Mays, prosecutor Jeff Ashton made the astounding claim in a December 2004 hearing before Judge Whitehead that Zeigler got Mays’ blood on his shirt while performing a sex act on Mays’ dead body.
Another possible reason for giving the Zeigler case to Whitehead was because his wife, Esther Marie Whitehead, was an Assistant State Attorney working for Orlando State Attorney, Lawson Lamar. Zeigler’s attorneys were unaware of this fact because Judge Whitehead failed to disclose it despite the long standing attempt by Lamar to have Zeigler executed. When the conflict of interest was discovered, Chief Judge Belvin Perry was asked to remove Whitehead from hearing any future appeals. In a letter to McEachern dated March 12, 2010, Judge Perry denied the request citing Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.330(b) (“Any party, including the state, may move to disqualify the trial judge assigned to the case on grounds provided by rule, by statute, or by the Code of Judicial Conduct”) The letter sounded almost like an invitation for Zeigler’s attorneys to follow up with a legally valid request, but none was made.
Curiously, Ester Marie Whitehead resigned from the state attorney’s office soon after Judge Perry’s letter was sent.
To see a transcript of Jeff Ashton’s 2004 allegation of necrophilia go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dgz6BIz2d_k&context=C4009f67ADvjVQa1PpcFO6KLPByrEC9nXmR5W2RYWmul–FiyBiaw=