A retrial for a former death row inmate was delayed at least two more months today because the Mobile County District Attorney’s office wasn’t prepared to make a decision on pursuing the death penalty against William John Ziegler a second time.
Ziegler was previously convicted and sentenced to death for the 2000 murder of Allen Baker in West Mobile, but after two unsuccessful appeals Mobile Circuit Court Judge Sarah Stewart ordered a new trial when the first was found to have “violated Ziegler’s constitutional rights” following a “Rule 32” hearing.
Stewart’s ruling claimed the first trial contained “multiple violations of Ziegler’s due process protections, myriad failures of (his) trial and appellate council and significant failures during the jury selection process.”
Though the state and the DA’s office spent months fighting the new trial, ADA JoBeth Murphree told Stewart today the prosecution “had not made a determination as to whether we’ll seek the death penalty or not.”
“I know that will influence many things, so we’re not prepared to say whether or not we are at this time,” Murphree said. “I know that will influence many things, and we’re still obviously having to look into a lot.”
Stewart gave the prosecution until Nov. 20, to decide how they would prosecute the new case, but until then, Stewart said she would have to treat the case like a capital murder trial with the possibility of the death penalty on the table — preventing any bond until a decision is reached.
If the death penalty isn’t pursued, but the prosecution still tries the case as a capital murder charge, defense attorney Jeff Deen said a bond for Ziegler might be possible, though it would still be unlikely.
Ziegler has been in a Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore since 2001, but was recently transferred to the Mobile Metro Jail after a retrial was granted.
Other than preventing a possible bond, treating the case as a death penalty trial also had an effect on Ziegler’s defense team. Stewart said she would be appointing a second chair to Deen’s team because the current second chair, Henry Callaway, isn’t experienced in death penalty trials.
“The new second chair will be helpful, but the lawyers who did “Rule 32” have also been assisting and will continue to,” Deen said. “They’ve (been involved) the last several years and know the factors of the case backward and forward.”
Deen said Ziegler was disappointed he wasn’t released on bond or permitted to see his family, but said having the chance to “get the truth out” has been uplifting to his client.
Ziegler’s family, who were in attendance at the hearing, echoed those sentiments, though Ziegler’s mother, O’Della Wilson, did say she was upset the DA was continuing to “drag the case out.”
“They’ve always been very confident, but if they were so confident in their case, why are they so unprepared?” Wilson said. “We’re talking 14 years. How long does it take for them to get prepared?”
Deen said he and the other attorney representing Ziegler were getting prepared and are planning to file new motions in the trial and possibly submit new evidence as their investigation continues.
“We know this is a terrible crime. Somebody’s been killed and it was brutal,’ Deen said. “This is just the wrong person to be charged with it.”
Ben Nagin is an attorney with Sidley Austin, LLP, — the firm that worked on the “Rule 32” hearing — and was in court for the hearing. He said he wanted to make it clear the retrial wasn’t the result of a technicality.
“There wasn’t some small error and now he’s getting out of jail,” Nagin said. “We’ve been here, and we’re going to stay here until he goes home.”