Florida jury recommends death penalty for Joseph Zieler in 1990 double homicide case
A Florida jury has recommended the death of Joseph Zieler in the case of the 1990 murders of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Story.
On Wednesday, May 24, in overnight deliberations, jurors voted 10 to 2 in favor of the death penalty for Zieler for the brutal double murder committed nearly 33 years prior.
On May 10, 1990, Jan Cornell, Robin’s mother, found her 11-year-old daughter and roommate Story dead in their home in Cape Coral, Florida. In the ensuing investigation, police discovered that the two girls had been sexually assaulted and that several items had been stolen from the house.
The case went cold for 26 years until Zieler was arrested on unrelated battery charges and DNA evidence led police to link him to the 1990 murders.
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After years of repeated delays, jurors began the long-awaited trial on Tuesday, May 16. Prosecutors showed DNA evidence and Zieler was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder.
Florida has executed two convicted murderers so far this year, with Zieler now recommending being the third.
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For decades, Florida had not required unanimity in capital punishment. The state previously allowed a judge to impose the death penalty as long as a majority of jurors favored the sentence. But in 2016, the United States Supreme Court rejected the state law, saying it left too much discretion to judges.
The state legislature then passed a bill requiring a 10-2 jury recommendation. But the state Supreme Court said those recommendations should be unanimous, prompting lawmakers in 2017 to require that.
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Three years later, the state Supreme Court, with new conservative jurists appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, reversed its earlier decision and ruled that a death recommendation need not be unanimous. .
The Associated Press contributed to this report.