Prosecutorial Misconduct and Defense Counsel Failures Require New Trial for Alabama Death Row Inmate

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A Mobile County, Alabama, trial judge ruled that William Ziegler, who was sentenced to death in 2003, must be given a new trial because the prosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence, his lawyers failed to provide adequate representation, and there were significant failures in the selection of the jury.

The judge considered testimony from 28 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits admitted during postconviction proceedings and made detailed findings in a 210-page order issued October 29, 2012. She concluded that there were several constitutional violations at William Ziegler's capital trial.

Despite the law requiring prosecutors to disclose to the defense any evidence that shows the defendant may be innocent or a State's witness may not be credible, the Mobile County prosecutor did not turn over evidence that a key State's witness falsely identified Mr. Ziegler as the man who threatened to kill the victim.

The prosecution also failed to turn over evidence showing the killing happened in a car belonging to the State's only eyewitness -- not in the woods, as the witness claimed and the State contended at trial. The witness was allowed to plead guilty to felony murder and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In addition to the prosecutor's misconduct, Mr. Ziegler's lawyers failed to interview critical witnesses and test evidence that would have shown that Mr. Ziegler was not the killer. They also ignored numerous witnesses and physical evidence that showed the victim was not killed in the woods, even though the State's case against Mr. Ziegler depended on that fact.

The court further found that Mr. Ziegler did not have a fair jury because several jurors did not answer questions adequately during jury selection, including one juror who did not disclose that her cousin and her brother-in-law had been murdered before the trial.

"Whether because of the multiple violations of his due process protections [by the prosecutor], because of the myriad failures of trial and appellate counsel to provide constitutionally adequate representation under the Sixth Amendment, or because of the significant failures in the selection of the jury, Ziegler’s constitutional right to a fair trial was violated in numerous respects," the court concluded. "Under any analysis, this Court cannot say that Ziegler received a fair trial and, accordingly, under our constitutional system and pursuant to Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, he is entitled to a new trial."