A man who has sat on death row in Atmore’s Holman Prison since 2003 is back in Mobile tonight, transferred to Mobile Metro Jail after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that he should be awarded a new trial.
William John Ziegler, 39, was convicted in 2001 of the brutal stabbing and near decapitation of Allen Lee Baker in West Mobile County. He was initially convicted on the testimony of two co-defendants – James Bennett and William Randall – who were offered plea deals in exchange for their cooperation, as well as a witness who originally told authorities she overheard Ziegler refer to Baker as a “walking dead man” shortly before his death. The latter witness later recanted her testimony at a week-long appeal hearing in 2010, where a pro bono team of attorneys also brought forth ample evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and inadequate representation.
In 2012, Mobile Circuit Court Judge Sarah Stewart thoroughly ruled that Ziegler’s “constitutional guarantees were not fulfilled” and ordered a new trial in the case. Last year, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals concurred with Stewart’s order, and more recently, the Alabama Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Ben Nagin, a New York attorney working on Ziegler’s behalf, said Ziegler’s attorneys requested the transfer.
“In the normal course, the cases come back down, and there is no longer a death sentence against Mr. Ziegler,” Nagin said. “He has been transferred to Mobile and there is going to be conference to determine the next step.”
District Attorney Ashley Rich also confirmed the move, noting her office was waiting to hear from the judge about the possibility of a retrial, but indicated she would be interested in prosecuting Ziegler again.
“Whether it will be our office or the Attorney General’s has not been finalized,” she said.